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Family Caregivers joining a support group

Why Family Caregivers Should Consider Joining a Support Group

Caring for a family loved one can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be overwhelming. The family caregiver is only human, and they need both emotional and practical support to maintain a healthy self. Joining a local support group is one solution to help the family caregiver feel less isolated, and it provides the opportunity to be around people who know exactly what they’re going through.

The benefits of joining a support group.

Research has shown that participating in caregiver support groups has many benefits and can significantly improve the quality of life for the caregiver and their family.

  • Caregiver support group members can validate each other’s experiences to help confirm that what you’re feeling is normal.
  • They can provide you with a place to ask for advice and find useful resources to support your family situation.
  • Support groups can help a caregiver feel less lonely, isolated or judged.
  • Group meetings will give you a chance to step away from caregiving which can help reduce distress, depression or anxiety.
  • Caregiver support groups can help you have a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation as time goes on.

How to find the right support group.

  • Search Online. Using keywords like “caregiver support group” or “caregiver network” should deliver local website results to get you started. Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, is another resource to help connect a family caregiver to local groups, support organizations, and services.
  • Start a Conversation. Another great way to find a caregiver support group in your area is by speaking with organizations that work with local seniors. Community organizations, including local charities, senior-focused programs (like a Meals on Wheels), senior centers, faith groups, and senior care companies (like a local FirstLight Home Care) are well connected in the community and can give you recommendations.
  • What’s Right for You? Are you looking for a condition-specific group, a support group that is peer-lead or lead by a trained facilitator? Are you looking for a group that is online or can be available by telephone? Having a better understanding of the types of groups that are available for what you need right now is important. You can always consider another type of group as your needs change.

What questions should you ask and what can you expect?

Support groups are not all the same. You will need to ask questions to find out if a specific group is right for you and to give you a better understanding of what to expect from the group.

  • Understand the structure of the meetings. Some groups have a trained leader, others don’t.
    • Peer-led support groups have group leaders that have been in a caregiving situation and can share their first-hand experience and resources.
    • Trained facilitator support groups are led by social works, clergy, psychologists or other professionals. They will provide a place to share, but they will also provide services to support your situation – including educational programs, elder or legal aid, adult day-care providers and other elder care related professionals.
  • Ask about the group’s confidentiality policy. You’ll want to find a group that maintains a high level of confidentiality of the conversations had within the group.
    • Do not feel like you must jump in and divulge everything right away. Typical support groups create an environment where members are free to discuss problems or share news as soon as they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Go in knowing that most groups are free. You should not feel pressured to join an association or pay dues.
  • Don’t feel obligated to stay with a group if it doesn’t feel right for you.

When you decide to join a caregiver support group, keep an open mind. Many caregiving challenges are very similar – including the overall emotional stress, dealing with the healthcare system, caregiver burnout, day-to-day caregiving demands, and the challenges of managing another person’s care in addition to your own family and personal life.

Regardless of your specific situation, a well-run caregiver support group will provide you with a safe space. The group should be a place for you to share stories, discuss your feelings and get/give advice with people who can relate, without judgment.

Knowing that you are not alone in your family caregiving situation can make a world of difference.

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