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How Can Support Groups Help Dementia Caregivers?

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Updated June 28, 2012

Are You a Caregiver?

Perhaps you’re caring for a loved one at home who has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. Your role of caregiver is an incredibly important one, and one that often demands much from you. Many in-home caregivers feel it’s a privilege to be able to care for their family member at home, but at the same time, they may feel isolated or burned out at times.

Others may have made the decision to place their loved one in a nursing home. While you're not physically responsible 24 hours a day for the care of your relative, you are still a caregiver. Many families of nursing home residents spend time frequently, even daily, with their loved one.

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Support Groups

One way that has been repeatedly proven by research to address these concerns is becoming involved in a support group and receiving counseling. For example, a study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry outlines research conducted with 158 spouse caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Some of the spouses were provided with supportive counseling and others were not. The participants’ level of depression was assessed throughout the 24 month study. Those who received the supportive counseling showed a decrease in their level of depression, while those who did not receive counseling demonstrated a significant increase in depression.

Another study demonstrated that individuals who received counseling were able to care for their loved ones at home longer, even up to 18 months longer, reducing the need for nursing home placement. Counseling can be provided in an individual or group setting, such as a support group.

Other studies indicate that the physical health of caregivers was improved when they sought support compared to those who did not.

Some people question whether or not a support group is worth their time, but the potential benefit is significant. If your initial response to the thought of a support group deters you, you may want to find a group that offers a strong educational component such as expert speakers on relevant topics, since this aspect of a support group has specifically been found to be helpful to caregivers.

Potential Benefits of a Support Group

  • A group can remind you that you’re not alone
    While you are likely aware of this, sometimes it’s still easy to feel that way when you don’t get out much. Getting together in the same room with others can be an encouragement and strong reminder that there are others coping with similar challenges.
  • You can share ideas for handling difficult behaviors
    At a support group, you can discuss a particularly challenging behavior or situation and get some ideas on how to handle it.
  • It gives you time off
    Even just that hour or so that you’re away for the meeting is a beneficial thing. It gets you out of the house, and makes you take time away when you otherwise might not. That little breather can make a difference in your day.
  • Preparation for what to expect
    A support group often has an educational component. For example, they might bring in a speaker to teach about the stages of Alzheimer’s so you will know what to expect as the disease progresses.
  • Encouragement to each other If you’ve been in the same situation someone else is going through, you have the opportunity to encourage that person. Having “been there” and sharing that experience is valuable to others.
  • Accountability
    Support groups can help keep you accountable to maintain balance in your life and take some time off.
  • A Safe place to vent
    A support group is a safe place for you to express those feelings you hide from others because you wonder how they'll react. You can share your frustration, grief, anger or exhaustion without fear of judgment from those around you. Doing this is good for you, and it's also good for your loved one with dementia who's receiving your care. Even if you try to hold it all inside, your non-verbal body and facial expressions speak loudly, and can communicate your frustration when you're caring for your loved one. Don't miss out on the chance to share each others' burdens.

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Choose a support group that meets at a time and place that you can make work for your schedule, and one that offers both support and education for its participants. You can also join in the discussions here in our Alzheimer’s forum.

Sources:

Brodaty, H., Wallen, A., Seth, Burns, A. & Mittelman. M.S. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 16. 11 (Nov 2008): 893-904. A Three-Country Randomized Controlled Trial of a Psychosocial Intervention for Caregivers Combined With Pharmacological Treatment for Patients With Alzheimer Disease: Effects on Caregiver Depression.

Fischer Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Alzheimer’s Research on Caregiving. Accessed June 27, 2012. http://www.alzinfo.org/research/alzheimers-research-on-caregiving

Nervenarzt. 2005 Mar;76(3):261-9. Efficacy of caregiver support groups for dementia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15300316

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