Taking That First Step

Reprinted with permission from the WNY Alzheimer’s Association

by Maggie Irwin
Alzheimer’s Association Support Group Facilitator
Jamestown, NY

??????????As a group facilitator for Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support groups, I have seen men and women come into a group, tentatively describing the problems they face with loved ones who are affected by Alzheimer’s or related dementias.  Gradually with regular attendance at monthly meetings, I have seen these same individuals become active participants, talking about their feelings, seeking advice from the other group members, learning about available resources and supporting other group members who may be in a bad place that day.  Most of all, I have seen group members realize they are not alone anymore.  They have met people who understand exactly where they are and what they are feeling.

Knowing that support groups help people cope with their loves ones, what keeps people from attending groups?   I think it is the enormity of taking that first step — to walk into a room alone, not knowing what to expect and not wanting to let your feelings out in a room full of strangers.  If you are already stressed out, depressed, or anxious, I cannot think of anything that would add to anxiety more than walking into a group alone.

Here are a couple suggestions to help you take that first step.  First call or meet with the facilitator prior to the group to gain a clear understanding what will happen in the group and what is expected of members.  Bring a friend or relative with you for moral support.  Do not feel that you have to share at your first meeting.  Give yourself a chance to listen and learn.  You will undoubtedly hear stories similar to your own.  My final advice — Stay in the present, rather than projecting or creating scenarios about how the meeting will go and how you will be treated.

Try going to one group.  You will not be alone anymore.

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