Friday, 7 March 2014

Joining a support group

Being a carer is a very isolating pastime!  This was a conclusion I came to within a very short time of taking on the role.  So, one of the first things I did was join a support group.  I found out about the existence of such groups during my Carer's Assessment.  After doing some research, I discovered that my local group is organised by The Alzheimer's Society.  It is intended for those with dementia and their carers and it meets in Gainsborough on the first Wednesday of every month. 

I've never had the need to join any such group before and was rather nervous when I first went along.  The thought of entering a room full of strangers and having that 'My name is Andrea and I'm a carer' moment was nerve-wracking.  In reality, it wasn't like that at all.  The group is a very friendly get-together of carers and people with dementia, led by two dedicated volunteers, both of whom are retired health professionals who, during their working lives, specialised in mental health.

My main motivation for attending the group was to get some answers.  As a new carer, I'm floundering and am always looking for definitive ways to do things.  The fact is that there are no real answers!  The best you can hope for is advice and sharing of experiences and that's the benefit of joining a group.

The first time I went, I went alone.  Everyone was very welcoming.  I was the youngest in the room by quite a long way, but, regardless of age, we were brought together by common experience.  Two representatives of Age UK were there to tell us about local services and I picked up loads of useful information.  I was also particularly struck by talking to one gentleman who cares for his wife.  She was there too.  He explained to me that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's eight years previously at the age of just 55.  He was keen to tell me that his wife had been an English teacher and so it was especially upsetting that now she was unable to read and write and was barely able to string a few words together.  The devastating effect of the disease on both of their lives was clear to see, yet he was outwardly positive and cheerful and very encouraging towards me.  The mutual support he so clearly felt from attending the group was a feeling that I shared from the outset. 

As I left that first meeting, the organiser, Jean, encouraged me to come back and 'Bring your Mum with you next time'.  I was sure I'd be back, but I was very dubious that I'd be able to get Mum there, seeing as she is in absolute denial about having anything wrong with her at all!

In the event, we did both attend this month's meeting!  I told Mum where I was going, who was organising it, and what it was for, and asked her if she wanted to come with me.  She seemed baffled that there was any doubt that she would be joining me! 

So, we went and, despite my reservations, Mum enjoyed it and is keen to go back next time.  I don't really think she fully understood what it was all about and I certainly don't think she would put herself in the same category as others who were there, but she had a good time!  She must have done ,because she didn't start asking to leave until twenty minutes before the two-hour meeting was due to finish.  This is very unusual these days as Mum invariably wants to leave almost as soon as we have arrived somewhere!

On this occasion, the organisers had invited a manicurist along, so my Mum got her nails done.  She was very impressed by the pampering, especially as it was free!!  There was also a lady at the meeting who Mum knew very well, so she was happy to chat to her.  With all of that, endless cups of coffee and biscuits, and winning a prize in the raffle, it was definitely a positive experience for Mum.  As it was for me.  Whether Mum realises it or not, for both of us, the pressure is off at these meetings, because everyone understands.  For me, I'm not on edge, worrying about explaining Mum's apparent rudeness or strange behaviour, and for Mum, she's not being asked questions she can't answer or being expected to make decisions she struggles with.

I salute the volunteers who keep these groups running and I urge anyone in a similar position to me to join their local group!


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