“Kindred Spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find there are so many of them in the world.” — Anne of Green Gables
Recently, Ron and I were honored to share stories and ideas with a dementia-focused caregiver support group at Hallmark Cards. Every month, the group welcomes a guest speaker and discusses an interesting aspect of caregiving. The group shares resources, caregiving ideas, family challenges and more.
“To learn how others have managed challenging experiences is so very valuable,” says Gini Toyne, RN, MBA, from Creative Care Consultants, who facilitates the group.
Gini contributed to these tips for creating a monthly support group:
Find Kindred Spirits
Find one or two people who share your situation. Ask them to meet you for breakfast, lunch or coffee.
“Believe me,” Gini says, “when you start sharing and troubleshooting, the group will quickly grow in size and value. You will be amazed at the number of folks who will want to join in. “
Agree on Group Goals and Behaviors
Agree on a regular meeting time. Be flexible: meet by phone or Skype when meeting in person doesn’t work. Agree on a facilitator, who’s dedicated to keeping the group focused and on-topic and who makes sure everyone is heard.
Create a Safe Space for Sharing
Create a safe and confidential atmosphere; agree that you’ll keep all comments and stories confidential and that you’ll listen to each other with openness and empathy. Agree to share ideas and avoid offering unsolicited advice.
Share Caregiving Journeys
Initially, invite group members to tell their caregiving story. Ask someone to write the stories down, so when a new member joins, they can read about the others.
Discuss Challenges, Issues, and Concerns
Ask members to keep a journal of challenges. Invite them to bring one question, challenge or concern to the each gathering. Discuss each person’s issues, managing the time, so everyone has equal chance to be heard.
Save time for questions and discoveries, so members can ask for advice and share resources.
Celebrate and Acknowledge The Journey
Take time to appreciate the energy, innovation and attention each member is offering to their loved one.
Share pieces of wisdom and moments of joy and connection.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.