Reflections on Facilitating Alzheimer's Support Groups
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Rev. Dr. Richard Morgan is a founder of the UsAgainstAlzheimer's Clergy Network, the author of the upcoming Leader's Guide for Seasons of Caring: Meditations for Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregivers, and works in pastoral care for those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers. - Trish
Our Alzheimer’s Support Group will celebrate its seventh anniversary in December. It is time to stand back and reflect on this much-needed support for caregivers. The group is under the auspices of the Alzheimer’s Association of Pittsburgh. It meets on the third Wednesday of the month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the chapel of Redstone Highlands senior community near Pittsburgh. Kim Kelly and I were the first facilitators. I now facilitate with Barb Stephens.
From the outset, the goal for the group was to provide a safe place for caregivers to vent their concerns and feelings and receive support from other caregivers experiencing similar issues. Though there are times for sharing information, the major agenda is allowing caregivers to express their concerns and feelings with others experiencing the same issues.
At almost every group meeting, new people join from the community. When a loved one has died, caregivers drop out, though two have remained in the group and are of great value in relating their experiences to the group. Another helpful reality is the presence of Redstone residents who have lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s or who are dealing with dementia in the present.
Many issues are discussed: anger and abuse by a person cared for, the hard decision of placing a loved one in a care facility, where to find a competent neurologist, and the value of medication, among many others. What is stressed at each group is caring for oneself, because one cannot be a helpful caregiver without self-care. The publication of Seasons of Caring: Meditations for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers brought a new dimension, as meditations are often used to bring closure at the end of a group session.
One glitch has been when a caregiver brings the loved one who has Alzheimer’s to the group. Great care is given to ensure this group is for caregivers, not persons with Alzheimer’s. At the most recent meeting, this concern was addressed. Staff at Redstone Highlands now provide respite care so that a caregiver can attend the group while their loved one is cared for in a nearby room. We anticipate more people from the community will take advantage of this service, thus allowing caregivers to attend meetings, assured their loved ones are being given care.
As the incidence of this disease grows, the need for Alzheimer’s support groups will also increase. At our last meeting, a member of the group was extremely emotional about placing her loved one in a veteran’s hospital. One of the group, who had to do the same difficult thing, reached out to her and offered understanding and comfort. This is the heart and soul of Alzheimer’s support groups – members helping one another, bearing their burdens with them. We constantly remind caregivers that no act of love is ever wasted.