Written by: Anne Farley, LSW, MS Coun., CDP, Director of Community Relations, Ganzhorn Suites (Columbus, OH)
If you’ve never attended a support group before, you may be wondering if you will feel comfortable and welcome, whether it will be worth your effort to get there, and whether a group like ours can really be a source of support and valuable information. As facilitator of The Ganzhorn Suites’ Memory Loss Empowerment Group in Powell, a support group for Alzheimer’s/dementia caregivers, I hope this post will address some of these questions for you. Our Avon (Cleveland) location also offers a caregiver support group, and you can find details of upcoming meetings for both groups here.
Who is welcome?
Our attendees are spouses and significant others, children and other relatives, and friends. Their loved one with Alzheimer’s/dementia may still be living at home or they may be living at the Ganzhorn Suites or another residential or memory care facility. Their loved one may be in an early stage of the disease or a very advanced stage. Anyone who has a loved one with Alzheimer’s/dementia and who feels like they might benefit from attending is welcome.
Is there an agenda or do people just talk?
Typically, every other month I schedule a speaker. For example, I will invite an attorney to share expertise about legal considerations for caregivers, things like advanced healthcare directives and legal guardianship. I will invite someone from our local Alzheimer’s chapter to share information on their resources. The remaining months we gather for impromptu conversations as well as revisiting past topics brought up by group participants. We talk about specific challenges people are having and how they are feeling. So often, someone in the group has experienced something that another group member is going through now. They may be able to share what helped them through it, or they may just be able to empathize because they have walked in the same shoes.
“I started attending this support group because my father had dementia and I had recently become his Guardian. I liked the informal setting, building a small handful of relationships with others along this walk, getting educated on services available in the local communities and it serving as a type of 'outlet' to share my experiences with others in similar situations.” - Dave
Can I just listen?
YES! If you prefer not to actively participate in our discussion, just let me know when you arrive. If you change your mind part way through, you can always jump in. Otherwise, I do typically start by asking attendees to briefly introduce themselves and share a little bit about their situation. When we have a speaker, these introductions enable them to customize their presentation.
Do I need to attend every meeting?
Definitely not. We have some people who attend very regularly and others who come when a speaker is of interest to them. We may have as many as 15-18 people at our meetings in Powell, but it varies.
In your opinion, what are the biggest benefits of a support group?
I’ll give you five!
1) You will realize you are not alone. You may have friends or even children who don’t witness or fully understand the stress and challenges you are facing. This group almost certainly does.
2) You may learn about resources or solutions to day-to-day issues that will make life a little easier.
3) Your ideas, experiences and insights may help someone else.
4) Many people form friendships that move beyond our meetings.
5) Even if it’s just for an hour once a month, getting out of the house and unburdening yourself a little can be good for your state of mind.
How can I take time away from my loved one for this?
So often, caregivers are hesitant to ask for help. It isn’t the case for everyone, but perhaps you have family, a neighbor, a friend, or a fellow church member who would be happy to be given a concrete way to help you out. By staying with your loved one for just a couple of hours, they can give you the gift of being able to do something meaningful for yourself.
What might surprise me?
Before attending a meeting, I think many caregivers assume that other caregivers are more giving and selfless than they are, but Alzheimer’s and dementia happen to real (imperfect) people and real (imperfect) families. I also think you may be surprised that although our group talks about difficult things, we also laugh together and there are moments of uplift too. You may also find that hearing about someone else’s struggles can help you find gratitude for small blessings in your own situation.
Why should I give it a try?
I am constantly inspired by the way this group can just embrace people with their kindness and empathy. I find it a wonderful gift to be a part of this. Why not bring a friend and give it a try? If you find you don’t like it, you never have to come back!
“If someone is hesitant to attend a support group, as I was, I would highly encourage them to give at least one a try and approach it with a very open mind. Listen, take it in and share to the degree comfortable. Anne truly creates a "safe zone" where you can share as much, or as little, as you want. My father passed away, so I am no longer a caregiver/Guardian to someone with dementia, but I am thankful I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and attended Anne’s support group regularly for more than four years; I would highly recommend it.” – Dave
Typically (but subject to change) our Powell support group meets the third Tuesday of each month, from 6pm-7pm, at the Liberty Summit Apartments Clubhouse about 4 miles north of The Ganzhorn Suites. I do ask those interested in attending a session to RSVP to me, so that I can make sure we have enough seating and notify everyone if there’s a bad weather cancellation.
The support group in Avon typically meets the second Tuesday of each month, from 6pm-7pm, at the Ganzhorn Suites in Avon.
Look for upcoming meetings of both groups on the Ganzhorn Suites event calendar.