How Support Groups Can Help

Abby Nathanson Director of Support Groups

It’s common to feel alone when caring for someone with dementia and to worry that you’re the only one feeling this overwhelmed, or this angry, sad, scared and drained. It’s normal to worry you’re not doing a good enough job, or feel guilty for doing too much or too little. Often, we’re angry at how much the situation is demanding of us. It can feel relentless.

Sometimes you find new meaning in being a caregiver, and wonder what will happen later when you’re not always waiting for the phone to ring and will have to go back to your life. Sometimes it feels like no one understands how hard it is to witness and care for someone whose disease is ruthlessly taking away what’s familiar.

When we add in the uncertainties of the cognitive and functional decline, coupled with the emotional and logistical challenges of taking care of someone with dementia, it can exhaust all of our energy and resources at times.

Friends and family can be invaluable supports during the often difficult experiences of caregiving. However, they may not always be emotionally or physically available, or understand what you’re going through. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who gets it.

So where do you turn? At CaringKind, we have a multitude of free services to help you during this process, including support groups.

Support groups provide an opportunity to give and receive support from people who understand what you’re going through. They are a great resource for people who are not actively in a crisis, have the desire and ability to connect with others and are generally functioning normally outside of the caregiving experience, though it’s not the best way to meet everyone’s needs. Our trained Helpline specialists and social workers can help you figure out if a support group is right for you. Sometimes when we talk to people about their situation, we recommend they speak individually with one of our trained Social Workers instead, because we think that will better support them in their situation.

At CaringKind, our support groups meet weekly or a few times a month, with the same people who are all making a commitment to attend regularly, so you have a chance to build relationships with other caregivers. Our support groups focus on the emotional connection between caregivers. We find that while people can usually get the information they need from our other educational programs and referrals, caregiving skills from our Family Caregiver Workshops and one-on-one emotional support from the Social Work Services team, our support groups are often the best place to connect emotionally with other people who understand the caregiving predicament.

It’s not always a common practice in every culture to openly share your feelings with others. Many people are taught that sharing negative feelings makes them worse, is a burden to others, or makes them seem weak. Some people are so used to “thinking” about everything; they don’t always know how they feel and that’s ok!
At the end of the day, we all have feelings. By taking the time to put your feelings into words, and express them to other people, we gain a measure of mastery over them and have the opportunity to make choices about how to cope with them. We can end up feeling less stressed and more connected when we share our experiences with other people — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Learning to express your feelings to others can feel uncomfortable at first if you’re not used to it, but like any skill, it gets better with practice, and the benefits are enormous.

Support group members tell us there are many reasons they’re glad when they share their experiences with others:

  • They learn healthier ways to manage difficult emotions.
  • They realize it’s ok to be sad, angry, guilty, resentful, relieved, or healed by the experience of caregiving.
  • They meet their deep-seated, human need for social support.
  • They see other people surviving what they’re going through, and it gives them hope.
  • They help other people survive what they’re going through, and it gives them purpose.

Call our Helpline at 646-744-2900 today, and we can help you figure out if one of our close to 100 support groups across the five boroughs is right for you.

Interested in running your own group? If you’re a former caregiver or a mental health professional and would like to learn more about getting trained to run your own support group, please give me a call at 646-744-2917 or email me at to find out more!

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