Why You Should Join a Caregiver Support Group

Over 34 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or over in the last year. (Source) Nearly three-quarters of them are women, and they tend to spend at least 50% of their time caring for their loved one.

It can be tough and isolating as you devote your time and energy to caring for your elderly loved one. But if you’re a caregiving child, spouse, or other relative, you’re in good company. Seeking out other caregivers can help you feel less alone.

Caregiver support groups are a great way to meet other caregivers, share ideas and resources, and commiserate with people who actually know what you’re going through.

Benefits of Support Groups for Caregivers

We’ve talked before about preventing caregiver burnout, and joining a support group can help with that. The other members of your support group can provide invaluable resources and information, as well as an objective look at how you’re doing and how close to burning out you are.

Here are the top benefits of joining a caregiver support group:

  • Meeting with others in your situation will help you feel less lonely or isolated.
  • Support groups are non-judgmental environments where members don’t question your devotion to your care recipient.
  • Members of your support group can help you deal with the feelings of guilt, helplessness, anger, frustration, or other emotions that develop while caregiving.
  • Participating in a support group will provide valuable resources to help you feel more empowered and in control.
  • Your stress levels will go down when you have a supportive group of people rooting for you and providing information.
  • You’ll develop a clearer understanding of your loved one’s condition and prognosis, from people who have “been there, done that.”
  • Support groups are gold mines of practical advice, information about treatment options, reviews of hospitals, doctors, and long-term care facilities, and insurance problems.
  • You’ll improve your quality of life and your ability to care for your loved one.
  • With the help of your support group, you may be able to keep your loved one at home longer. And when it becomes time to move the patient to a skilled nursing facility, your group can help you deal with your conflicting emotions of guilt and relief.
  • Your experience with caregiving can help others just starting out in the caregiving journey.

Where to Find Local Support Groups

First check with your local hospital or community center; they should have a complete list of all local groups. Many nursing facilities or adult day care centers will host support groups, so that’s also a good place to look. For instance, our own Regency Gardens in Wayne hosts a monthly support group for people who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

If you’re looking for a group that focused on your loved one’s specific conditions, check the websites associated with that condition. For example, the American Cancer Society has a searchable listing of local resources, including caregiver support groups, on their website.

Other common websites include:

While in-person meetings are the most beneficial, there are also countless facebook groups and online support groups for caregivers. If you find you really can’t get out to a weekly or monthly meeting, this might be a good substitute. Check here for a list of online support groups: https://www.seniorly.com/resources/articles/online-caregiver-support-groups

However you choose to get your support, joining a group will help you navigate the challenges of caregiving.

Prevent Caregiver Burnout

If you spend any amount of time caring for your elderly parents, you are at risk of burning out. What does burnout mean? How does it look and where does it come from?

The dictionary defines burnout as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” And both overwork and stress are common among caregivers to the elderly. Whether your parents live with you, live alone, or in a long-term care facility, the burden of their care sits heavily on you.

Causes of Caregiver Burnout

You’re in danger of burning out any time you start pushing your limits without stopping to care for yourself. This can include:

  • Working too hard and not accepting help
  • Not sleeping well
  • Not eating well
  • Stress from financial problems
  • Confusion from all the medical decisions
  • Guilt about those medical decisions

Being the primary caregiver of an elderly or disabled person is physically taxing. Some seniors need extensive help with dressing, toileting, and bathing. If you’re the one doing all that, you can get worn down very quickly. In addition, it’s difficult to juggle work responsibilities with caregiving. Your career may suffer, or you may find yourself skipping the things you used to enjoy because you simply have no time.

Besides the physical aspect of caring for your parents, you also have the crushing emotional burden of assuming a “parenting” role for your own parent. Unresolved resentments between elderly parents and their adult children, or between siblings, tend to come up during medical episodes and while making medical decisions. This all contributes to the load of mental and emotional stress caregivers carry.

All these factors and more play into caregiver burnout, and it’s important to recognize when you’re overdoing it.

How Burning Out Looks

After a time of neglecting yourself and focusing solely on your parent or loved one, you might start feeling depressed or anxious. You may lose weight, have changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, and feel irritable a lot. You could even find yourself dealing with a lingering cold that just won’t go away.

You might not even notice these red flags right away. Many times caregivers are so overwhelmed, they can’t stop to think about how they’re feeling. Others may pick up on the signs of burnout, and can let you know when you need to take a break.

How to Prevent Burnout

  • While it won’t completely eliminate your caregiving burden, consider placing your parent in a long-term care facility. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy may prevent you from taking that step, but it’s something to consider when you don’t have a lot of help and you’re getting run down from all your responsibilities. Many times, moving your loved one to a skilled nursing facility is the best option for everyone. In facilities like Regency Nursing‘s, residents get superior care and have a warm social atmosphere if they desire. You can still be as involved as you want to be in your loved one’s care, and often your relationship improves when you’re no longer the full-time caregiver.
  • Take care of yourself. Take breaks from caregiving to indulge in activities you enjoy. Accept help when others offer it, and learn how to delegate. Make sure to schedule—and attend—regular doctor appointments for yourself.
  • Practice stress relief. Even if you make no other change, just making a habit of reducing stress will work wonders on your mood, appetite, and long-term health. For some stress-reducing techniques, see our previous blog post, Take a Break From Stress.
  • Embrace your medical decisions—and their consequences. One of the hardest parts of being a caregiver is the responsibility of making medical decisions. Ideally, you have an advance directive signed by your parent, but what happens if you don’t, and you’re long past the point where Mom and Dad can communicate their wishes? You do your best to follow the doctor’s and facility’s recommendations, and then choose the option that seems best. Later, you may feel like you made a bad decision, and you may blame yourself for the results. Remember that you did the right thing at that time, and there’s no way to know how the other options would have turned out. Keeping that mindset will help you have more peace of mind during this challenging time.