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Day 10: The Immense Value of the Family Caregiver Support Group

November 10, 2011  – By Lois Esobar, MSW, Family Consultant at Family Caregiver Alliance

The role of a family caregiver is difficult. Aside from taking care of their loved one, they must also continue to lead their lives, which includes working, caring for family, grocery shopping and a seemingly endless list of potentially stress-inducing responsibilities! Many family caregivers need time to vent in a safe place. Caregiver support groups allow caregivers to have that special time to be with other people who have similar issues.

Support groups are a place to receive and give support—so essential to the family caregiver. About eight years ago, I taught a caregiver class in Spanish here in San Francisco. Participants in the class appreciated having the class in their language, but they also wanted more, and so began our Spanish caregiver support group which I have facilitated for the past eight years. Many family caregivers have attended the group since its inception and have told me how much they look forward to the meetings. At the beginning of the meetings, caregivers check in with each other to see how they’re doing. Blanca, one of the members stated: “this support group is the place that I can go to and be understood. I learn so much from my group of friends.”

Time and again, caregivers have told me that the support they receive is so beneficial. Many of the participants have formed friendships and stay in contact with eachother in between the monthly meetings. Participants also look forward to the different types of food that members bring to the meetings- whether it’s Columbian, Cuban, El Salvadoran, or Mexican. Members are even planning a Thanksgiving gathering! Over the years many family caregivers have told me that they feel isolated. They often do not talk to anyone for days. Rosa says: “Sometimes I feel very isolated and alone, but when I come to the group, I know that there are others who care.”

Being in a caregiver support group allows the caregiver to focus on their needs, not only the needs of the care receiver. The meeting once a month is a gentle reminder that family caregivers need to put themselves first . . . even if only for a couple of hours each month! The caregivers in the group are caring for loved ones affected by stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lewey Body Dementia and we’ve had guest presenters come to the group and talk about these diseases. Besides the guest speakers, I have learned from the caregivers about their stressors, challenges, and frustrations, and this has made me a better social worker.

People hear about the support group most often from word-of-mouth from a friend, but other social workers will also make referrals. Family caregivers need to be mindful of when it is time to look for more support. Some of the signs can be as follows: You feel exhausted and have less energy. You become overwhelmed easily and feel helpless. You also become easily frustrated, angry and irritable. Most importantly, you begin to neglect your own needs.

Some Resources to Help

  1.  “Support groups a lifesaver for caregivers” By Paula Falk. Herald Tribune. July 12, 2011. Available at http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20110712/WIRE/110719938/2059/LIVING?p=1&tc=pg
  2. FCA: “Caregivers Online: Using Support Groups on the Internet
  3. FCA: “How To Form A Support Group
  4. FCA: “Family Caregiver Alliance’s 4 Online Support GroupsCreative Commons License

The Immense Value of the Family Caregiver Support Group by Lois Escobar, MSW, Family Consultant at Family Caregiver Alliance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.