Being a caregiver is tough – from a physical and emotional standpoint, among other considerations. However, for caregivers of a loved one with dementia, the experience can be rather unique. After all, the person’s cognitive decline can incite a number of challenges, including how to deal with unpredictable changes in behavior, the fear of maintaining the strength to deal with ever-increasing responsibilities, the increasing difficulty in communicating with your loved one, and the isolation a caregiver may begin to feel as friends and family sometimes begin distancing themselves from this often uncomfortable situation.
It is in times like these you may consider joining a dementia care support group. There are usually a number of support groups available in your local area, most guided by experienced professionals who have been trained to assist caregivers in dealing with the difficulties associated with this disease. Some groups have even broken down into smaller subsets, such as dementia care support for spouses, adult children, caregivers of patients in later stages of cognitive decline, etc.
While joining a support group gives the family caregiver a “safe place” to discuss the challenges, here we will discuss both the pros and cons of joining a Dementia Care Support Group. This way, you can evaluate this option ahead of time. If you feel a support group can help, you should always attend at least one meeting to see if the group you’ve chosen is right for your individual needs.
If you have been the family caregiver for a patient with dementia for any length of time, you are bound to have dealt with friends or family members who are absolutely certain that the individual you are caring for has no problem at all. In fact, they probably felt that you were the problem instead. Often, in the earlier stages of decline, the condition is not easily detected, so your gripes may fall on deaf ears. It is a difficult time that can often leave you feeling misunderstood and rejected as others see your claims as unwarranted. A dementia care support group can give you the much-needed empathy you may be looking for, because the room will be filled with others who are currently dealing with, or who have dealt in the past, with the very challenges you face. This part alone can be quite liberating.
Second, the professional guidance you will receive from the support group leader will often educate and encourage you throughout the process. Behaviors you regard as bizarre are often common to the disease, and you will hear that through your group leader or from others within the group.
Third, if you are in need of individual counseling outside the group, your support group leader can often give you some direction about reputable services in the area. At times, the conflicts you face as you deal with caring for your loved one can bring up old, unresolved issues you’ve suppressed for years. If this is the case, counseling may be a good fit, but you will not want to open these issues to a counselor who may not understand the space you’re standing in.
Now to the cons of joining a dementia care support group. First, the liberating feeling you’ll get by being surrounded by others who “share your pain” can lead you to rehearse feelings of helplessness and victimization. Even in the face of the caregiving challenge, you will always want to remain positive and focus on the good; thus, you will want to be aware and to follow the guidance of a strong support group leader so you will not fall into the “forever victim” trap.
Second, you will want to build strong, healthy relationships which focus on other areas of your life. In other words, don’t spend all your time away from your loved one rehashing what he/she did and how you feel. You will want to put avenues in place to support a balanced lifestyle, including friends and activities which support your interests and goals.
These are things to think about as you consider joining a support group. The decision is not for everyone, but some caregivers find such groups useful for getting through a difficult period.