“What’s troubling you this week? What is your biggest challenge?” asks Margie Ratcliff, Director of Volunteer Services at The Palms of Largo multilevel senior living campus in Largo, Florida. “It may not be a good month, or a good day, but I always encourage the caregivers to come and we will work it out.”
Sometimes, when dealing with difficult experiences, having someone there who really understands what you’re going through is all you really need. A caregiver support group can be your lifeline and remind you that you are not in this alone.
The Benefits of Support Groups
Caregiving is a difficult job for which there is no instruction manual, it is not uncommon for a caregiver to feel depressed or isolated. A caregiver support group is a place where you can openly discuss your issues and find common ground in a non-judgmental and confidential environment.
Because the other members of the support group are currently going through, or have already experienced, many of the difficulties you are going through, they are able to share advice and support. “They have resources that they will share with each other. It opens their eyes to things that they were not aware of,” says Margie.
Discussing issues and finding solutions leaves group members with a sense of empowerment. It also gives them an idea of what to expect in a given situation and helps them manage their coping skills. For example, what to do the next time your loved one wanders.
But for some, the most important of the benefits may just be the ability to take a break. “We have a woman in our group who has two autistic sons and a father with Alzheimer’s. She has her plate full,” says Margie. “She drives from 40 miles away to come to the support group just take a break from everything.”
What to Expect When Attending a Support Group
“The meetings just take off,” says Margie. “As soon as they come in, they will just start talking and answering each other's questions.” There may be individuals who are just joining the support group or are new to being a caregiver, but there are also the caregivers who’ve been supporting their loved ones for a long time. “It really is a varied group, but there is a strong camaraderie with everyone involved.”
At The Palms of Largo, Margie leads the caregiver support group. It is common when attending meetings to have a facilitator lead the conversation and sometimes there is even a guest speaker who presents to the group. “I invite a gentleman in regularly to do chair massages as a treat,” says Margie. “Caregivers ask so little and do so much, I want to honor them and give them a break.”
Topics of discussion cover a range of situations from a loved one’s safety and when it is time to take away the keys to dealing with a loved one’s dementia. “I encourage my group to avoid venting and have constructive conversations,” says Margie.
If You are Hesitant About Joining a Group
If you are hesitant about joining a support group, Margie recommends attending a meeting at least once. If it is not a good fit, you don’t have to come back. “There probably aren’t that many people who really relate to everything you are going through,” says Margie. “But the members of a caregiver support group know the pitfalls, they know the resources, and they understand.”
How to Find a Support Group
Support groups cover a variety of topics from caregiver support to coping with dementia or dealing with Parkinson’s. Whatever issues you are dealing with in your life, there are resources available to help. To find a support group, speak with your local senior living community, senior or community center or look online for support.