Caregiving can be a source of immense satisfaction and accomplishment. It gives you the opportunity to forge an enduring bond with your loved one and experience the gratification of being of service to another human being who depends on you. But caregiving also brings its own responsibilities and pressures. As a caregiver, you are constantly being challenged to learn something new, to make yet another important decision, or to navigate through days filled with appointments and obligations, some of them planned, others unexpected. Caregiving draws down your reserves of energy, ingenuity, and enthusiasm.
A support group can provide the information, the insight, and the affirmation that can make the responsibility of caregiving much lighter. It provides an opportunity to learn from others who face the same challenges that you do, to discuss your experiences, and to ask for advice.
Support groups help in a number of ways. You can come away from support group meetings with practical tips on caregiving that you can put to work right away. You can also take with you the sense of perspective that comes from comparing your own experiences as a caregiver with others'. Most of all, you can gain a feeling of community. There is great comfort in getting together with other people who share the rewarding but sometimes difficult experience of being a caregiver.
Not every support group may be right for you. As a rule of thumb, look for groups that are well established and that are led by someone with experience as a caregiver and a facilitator. Such a person will give the sessions structure, keep the conversation moving in the most productive direction, and serve as a link to community resources.
You should also look for support groups whose style matches your own. Some support groups are very formal, with set agendas and presentations from local professionals. Others have a more fluid agenda, allowing members to introduce topics for discussion.
A good place to start your search for a support group is to gather recommendations from friends, spiritual leaders, and the staff at your community's Department of Social Services.