Tips on Finding the Right Family Caregiver Support Group for Dementia
Finding a caregiver support group is an important aspect of self-care, especially for those caring for a parent or senior loved one with dementia. Recent studies have found that involvement in a family caregiver support group can benefit a caregiver’s mental and physical health, as well as their measure of success.
Read our tips on finding the right family caregiver support group for dementia to ease your caregiving burden.
The Benefits of Family Caregiver Support Groups
As the average life expectancy increases in the United States, the incidence of age-related diseases — such as dementia — continues to rise exponentially as well. In turn, the number of family caregivers in the U.S. has also increased.
Dr. Peter Steinglass, Executive Director of the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City, says, “Today, people are being asked to provide treatment at home that would have been unthinkable even three years ago. In addition, there is much greater awareness of the burdens facing family caregivers… and fortunately, the availability of family caregiver support groups has increased substantially.”
Recent studies show that involvement in family caregiver support groups can benefit the mental and physical health of caregivers, as well as improve their measures of success.
Other benefits of family caregiver support groups include:
- Family caregiver support groups provide a safe place for caregivers to share feelings in a non-judgmental environment
- Support groups provide tools for coping with caregiver stress
The Types of Family Caregiver Support Groups
There are several different types of family caregiver support groups available, including:
- Caregiver groups: These groups consist of family caregivers who care for people of all ages, with a wide range of conditions. The focus is on caregiving in general sense, instead of focusing on a specific illness. Those who need social connections or who need to talk about their own needs may find this type of group most helpful.
- Condition-specific caregiver groups: These groups focus on a specific condition, disease or disability, such as dementia. Those caregivers whose parents or senior loved ones are newly diagnosed, or in need of more education and resources, may want to consider this type of group.
- Family support groups: These groups may be more like group therapy than other types of support groups. The focus is on improving communication and strengthening family bonds, for those impacted by a person who needs ongoing care. This is a good choice for dementia caregivers who are struggling with conflict over caregiving tasks, monetary issues or unresolved problems between family members.
- Online support groups: Attending online support groups from the convenience of the home is a good option for caregivers who live in remote areas, caregivers struggling with a lack of time for self-care, or for caregivers who have transportation issues.
- Relationship-oriented groups: This type of group involves adult children, parents, spouses etc. This group may be the most helpful for those who are looking for support from others who can easily relate to the specific challenges that people go through in family relationships with care recipients.
Everyone is different, so, we all have a different gauge as far as what makes a good support group.
Some groups employ professional counselors or trained facilitators, but in other cases, a very effective layperson may act as the family caregiver support group leader. The group facilitator should be able to:
- Employ and enforce the agreed-upon structure of the group
- Facilitate a primary goal for the group for all members
- Offer care and concern for every member in need
- Provide reliable resources
- Respect each member’s opinion
Some people may prefer a more relaxed atmosphere and others, a structured group with guidelines for how long each member shares, etc. There are some basic qualities that apply to all groups, however. A functional family caregiver support group should include:
- A caring environment offering trust among members
- A clear purpose of the group’s function and goals
- A good group facilitator
- A straight-forward policy on confidentiality
- Agreement among members about how the meeting will be conducted and the type of structure of the group
Tips on Finding the Right Family Caregiver Support Group
Caregivers may need to attend several different support groups before discovering the one they feel most comfortable joining.
Here are some questions to ask when beginning your search:
1. What type of structure does the family caregiver support group have?
Is it an open speaking forum? Is participation required of each group member? What are the rules of confidentiality?
2. Who is the group facilitator?
If possible, talk to the group leader and ask questions about the group directly. You may also want to inquire about any credentials the leader has, as well as inquiring about their background and experience.
3. Who sponsors the family caregiver support group?
Reliable support group sponsors include local churches, hospitals and other well-established organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association.
If you don’t like the group the first time, try it at least one more time before deciding the group is not for you. New attendees oftentimes feel anxious when trying out an unfamiliar group and may not get much out of it the first time.
Keep in mind that the most important thing to take away from any family caregiver support group is the feeling that group members really care for each other. The other details can usually work themselves out when differences surface — provided there is mutual respect among the members.
If finding the right group seems impossible, consider counseling. A professional may be able to recommend the perfect support group, based on getting to know you and your personal family caregiving situation.
Have you joined a family caregiver support group before? What suggestions do you have for other caregivers searching for a support group? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.
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