Support Groups For Caregivers, Part 2

When the caregivers get together, “a lot of times you hear laughter coming out of that group. Sometimes you need a chance to let your hair down, ” she said. Or show your fears and worries, since “in the persona of the caregiver, you have to be the strong one.”

But there are also some concerns about participating in a group in which difficult, private topics can surface. “A big issue in groups is confidentiality,” said Christiana M. Evers, coordinator of information services at NABCO, the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations, based in New York City. “We encourage groups to be led by trained facilitators. Sometimes emotionally charged subjects develop and it is good to have a leader who can help direct the group so that the flow of conversation is appropriate and comfortable.”

When a group is working well “there’s an incredible dynamic that exists,” Evers said. “You have the ability to share your thoughts and feelings in a trusting and secure environment. And it can be a wonderful arena for sharing information.”

NABCO publishes a Breast Cancer Resource List, which includes a list of regional support organizations as well as other information sources, such as books and Web sites, for families and partners.

Where to Start Looking
If you are looking for a support group for any type of medical condition, Thomas, a medical librarian, suggests several ways to do it:

Start with your local library and ask for direction from the reference librarian.
Check with your area hospitals or speak to nurses, social workers or other healthcare professionals who are helping to treat the illness for which you are seeking a support group.
Call the national association for whatever illness you are concerned about, such as the American Cancer Society. The national office of an association can usually direct you to support groups in your area.
Seek advice from your local religious or community-centered organizations.
Use the Web. Online support groups can be particularly helpful to people, such as parents caring for ill children, who have more difficulty leaving home to meet with a group. Also the Web is a very good resource to search for national associations and other information sources that could lead you to find support group information.
Consider informal groups, such as yoga classes, exercise classes or walking groups. These often become not only a source of relief for your body, but a group you connect with regularly as a way to support yourself outside your caring duties.
No matter which type of group you decide to participate in, “it makes a real difference. There’s an acceptance you feel as a member of a group,” Thomas said. Sometimes people fear a support group because they think they will expose themselves, or everyone sits around and cries. Don’t worry, Thomas says.

There are all types of groups and formats. And when you’re with people who are going through the same thing you are, you may well find, “you don’t have to explain a lot.”

In discussing the success of support groups in helping Alzheimer caregivers cope, Lisa Gwyther, director of the Duke Alzheimer Family Support Program at Duke University, says most caregivers encounter sadness, confusion, fear, denial, anger, frustration, guilt and shame, in no particular order and throughout the course of the disease.

When you are in a support group that works for you, Gwyther said, you can experience that ” ‘aha’ moment — when you realize that you are not alone.”

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