Sunday, July 6, 2014

The More Support the Better!

When I became Dad’s caregiver, lo these many years ago, I was the first person in my peer group to be a caregiver. I had no friends or acquaintances who were going through something similar, and my family is fairly small so there wasn’t much help there, either. It was just out of the ordinary to have to learn how to be a caregiver at 33 so I didn’t have any community to help me out that were going through the same thing. I found some support in books, although, again, it was hard to find ones written for people my age.

So I muddled along as best I could. I remember at one point investigating the Alzheimer’s Association Washington chapter and going to their support group, but I don’t remember finding it very helpful. I hadn’t even heard of Lewy Body dementia at the time, so wouldn’t have thought to look for that group, although there probably wasn’t one ten years ago.

Now, of course, there are many more support groups for caregivers and people suffering from illness and dementia than there used to be. I am really happy to see this because I think support groups are so important. I’m not even sure how often I would have gone to a support group, had I been able to find an appropriate one, but I think it would have helped somewhat to meet others like me and hear how they were dealing with the problems I was dealing with.

When people ask me now whether a support group really helps, I tell them absolutely! It can help so much just knowing that there are other people out there who have wrestled with the same dilemmas; felt the same crazy emotions where you both hate and love your care receiver at the same time; and struggled with the million and one practical details and problems that come with the job.

Over and over, I have watched new attendants of my groups sag with relief and happiness as they listen to someone else detail an issue or tell a story that they can identify with. Knowing we are not alone and that others understand is such an important element of mental health. I truly believe that getting support from others can lessen depression and isolation in caregivers, while at the same time giving them tools and resources they might not have found anywhere else.

If you don’t attend a support group, I urge you to look for one in your area. If there isn’t one, consider starting your own. You may be surprised how many caregivers show up. Check the websites of the major foundations and caregiver support organizations for help in your area.

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