What can a support group do for me? When faced with a difficult diagnosis for yourself or a loved one and presented with the opportunity to attend a meeting, you may be asking yourself this question. Different support groups exist for many health conditions, bringing people together who face similar problems and offering a place to share not only problems but solutions as well. At Senior Lifestyle, we’ve seen the positive impact of support groups for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and other illnesses, as well as those focused on the demands of long-term caregiving, and while some people may not need or want the support beyond that offered by family and friends, support groups offer many benefits for members.
Support groups are made up of individuals who share a common interest or health concern. Most groups focus on a specific condition or situation and are often started by a person with the condition or another involved person, such as a family member. The format varies, with some support groups meeting in person, some by telephone, and others on the Internet; the form of support that works best for an individual is often dictated by geographical location, the nature of the condition, and personal preference. Groups may be led by a facilitator with clinical experience in treating a specific illness or by a member of the group. Additionally, the group may be structured, with specific goals and agendas for each meeting, or it may be more oriented toward social connections and shared experiences.
Whatever the structure, support groups provide connections with others who share similar problems, as well as emotional and moral support. Quite often, members also share practical advice and coping skills for those facing a new diagnosis or at the beginning of a caregiving journey.
Benefits of support groups may include:
- Emotional support, less isolation
Sharing fears and frustrations, receiving support without judgement, and reassurance that others share similar problems provides support group members with an outlet for feelings that friends and family who aren’t in the same situation may not fully understand.
- Practical advice and information
Members of support group are in the unique position to share advice about treatment, medication and alternative options. Exchanging information about positive outcomes can empower members of the group to take a more active role in their care or seek out treatment options previously unknown to them.
- Developing coping skills and managing expectations
For someone facing a new diagnosis, having the opportunity to speak openly and frankly with a support group member whose disease and treatment is more advanced can be comforting as well as educational. For many, lack of information on what to expect is frightening, and a “veteran” can provide valuable insight into treatment and progression of the disease.
While support groups are not a substitute for medical care, the old proverb “A trouble shared is a trouble halved” holds true. The benefits of sharing difficulties as well as practical advice can make dealing with a new diagnosis a little less daunting and managing a long-term condition a little less isolating. For more information about support groups in your community, please visit our website at www.seniorlifestyle.com to find a community near you.