What To Expect When You Attend a Caregiver Support Group

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can be an overwhelming task, even for experienced caregivers. The challenges that come with the different stages of dementia can take an emotional and physical toll on a loved one’s caregiver.

It’s important for caregivers to find a space where they can voice their concerns, ask questions and vent to others who are familiar with their journey. Support groups are an excellent outlet for those conversations to take place.

If you are thinking about joining a local support group, but aren’t sure what to expect or if it’s for you, we’ve outlined some helpful information for you below to consider first.

The Basics

Caregiver support groups usually meet on a regular basis – weekly or monthly – and happen at the same time, place and date. Normally an industry professional like a social worker or caregiving expert will lead these groups and facilitate the conversations.

When you hear “support group,” it is common to picture a group of people sitting around in a circle, sharing their stories. While this is still what some support groups look like, most have evolved into new models to accommodate caregivers more easily.

For example, the Caregiver Support Initiative support groups are now virtual. This was a change brought on by the pandemic and we’ve since received favorable feedback indicating that virtual groups are much more convenient for most. Ultimately, you have choices. Find a support group that works best for you and where you feel most comfortable.

Caregiver support groups are normally filled with caregivers at different stages of the journey. There could be new caregivers looking for information or advice on providing care from those who are more experienced. There may be caregivers who have been regularly attending support groups each month, and there are others who pop in sporadically when they need it. There are no set rules. Do what works for you.

At support groups, the facilitator will normally ask attendees to introduce themselves and say something about where they are in the caregiving journey. Other than that, speaking and participating in support groups is entirely optional. Participating in support groups may help you get to know other caregivers better and hear how they have managed a similar situation that you are in, too.

The Importance

In a recent Caregiver Conference, Caregiver Support Initiative Project Director, Dr. Richard Durant gave some insight into care groups. “I know it’s hard for people to feel like they could initiate that first step, to admit that maybe they would benefit from a support group- a lot of people don’t like support groups because they can be uncomfortable,” he said. “But support groups are not therapy groups. It’s not an opportunity where you’re going to reveal all your darkest and deepest secrets, it’s an opportunity for you to come together and talk about your challenges and then work on problem solving some of those challenges with people who know about them.”

Dr. Durant went on to say, “It’s a learning opportunity. The people that are there are either encountering or have encountered the same issues that you are and can provide support and education on those issues. And that itself can be a very normalizing experience and can create those social connections.”

Some caregivers have said they didn’t realize how much they needed a support group until they were in one. It’s never too late to start.

The Benefits

The goal of support groups is to provide a comfortable space for caregivers to share their story and learn about the journey that still lies ahead. There are many benefits that support groups can provide to caregivers both immediately and over time. Check these out from DailyCaring:

  • You feel less lonely and isolated
  • Anxiety and depression is reduced
  • You get advice and information about solutions for problems and treatment options
  • You get a better understanding of what to expect in the future as dementia progresses in your loved one

Support groups offer a space to meet other caregivers who know what you’re going through, making caregivers feel seen and heard and most of all-less alone on the journey.

If you are caring for a loved one and think attending a support group is right for you, we are here to help. Visit our support group page to learn how Caregiver Support Initiative can help you today.