How to Get the Most Out of Support Groups: Seniors and Caregivers
RetireEASE Senior Services cares about the mind, body and spirit of our clients. The following article published in the Senior Spirit, a newsletter published by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors gives practical advise and helpful tips on supporting our aging loved ones.
When faced with life altering issues such as illness, death, and depression, seniors may find themselves in an unfamiliar position of dealing with heavy feelings and how to move forward. Perfectly capable adults who are distraught like never before may suddenly wonder what to do when confronted with overwhelming emotions.
Today’s seniors grew up in a time when people often didn’t share their feelings openly. It was not socially acceptable to disclose secrets of life-threatening illness or feelings of hurt or depression. However, today’s society is not only accepting of a person in a vulnerable state, but it also offers avenues for guiding that person to many types of support groups. Isolation is no longer necessary. Others are experiencing similar issues and are willing to share and provide a safe place to show up and ask for help.
Adult children or caregivers may often be the first line of defense when a senior is struggling. Family can be a good place to start to find support. Even seniors who are reluctant to share their emotions or feelings may seek help from their adult children or caregiver first. While that may be a good option for some people, it may also be a relief to find support outside the immediate circle of contacts.
When the adult child or the caregiver is ill-equipped to counsel the senior, or if they themselves need help, support groups may be the answer. Support groups are available for any ailment or situation. It just takes the willingness to participate and a little research to find the right one.
Tips for finding a support group
- Ask your doctors at the hospital
- Ask friends who have gone through the same experience
- Search online for local meetings
- Check online for resources such as online support groups , blogs, or chat rooms that are focused on your issue
- Contact focused associations such as the American Cancer Society or Alzheimer’s Association.
- Another great resource for discovering the appropriate type of support is the Mental Health America website, which guides visitors to support groups. One may also visit the Mental Health America affiliatewebsite, which is an excellent resource for support groups by state.
Characteristics of a good support group
While each person will seek something different from support groups, participants must ultimately feel comfortable attending meetings and sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The common characteristics that generally create a well-functioning group are:
- Prompt response to inquiries about the group
- Up-to-date and reliable information
- Strong leadership
- Access to professional advisors who align with the group’s interest
- A clearly stated and practiced “confidentiality policy”
The Mayo Clinic says that the benefits offered by support groups are unmatched and unlimited for a person struggling with an issue. People get something different out of the same meeting, depending on where they are in their experience and how willing they are to accept help. Benefits from joining and participating in a support group are:
- Feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged
- Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
- Improving coping skills and adjustment
- Engaging in an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about personal feelings
- Reducing distress, depression, or anxiety
- Gaining a clearer understanding of what to expect with one’s situation
- Learning about new medical research
- Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
- Comparing notes about resources such as doctors and alternative options
Seniors who are dealing with new issues or issues that continue to plague their daily lives and hinder them from enjoying a productive life should investigate support groups. An adult child, caregiver, friend, or doctor can help find the right place for the senior to engage in getting help through the unique opportunity of support groups.
Adult children and caregivers also have access to support groups. Being responsible for a senior’s care can be frustrating, emotionally and physically draining, and overwhelming. People often need help, and sometimes that help is just a support group away from changing a life.