In Your Prime: Alzheimer’s caregiver support groups can be lifeline during pandemic

Representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association and members of Boy Scout Pack 151 from Oakwood planted 1,000 yellow pinwheel flowers at Levitt Pavilion in November to honor Alzheimer’s caregivers during National Caregivers Month. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association and members of Boy Scout Pack 151 from Oakwood planted 1,000 yellow pinwheel flowers at Levitt Pavilion in November to honor Alzheimer’s caregivers during National Caregivers Month. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Twice-a-week Facebook chats and meetings over the phone are new ways to provide help

It’s the club no one wants to join.

Being an Alzheimer’s caregiver can be difficult and most people do not understand unless you have been one. That’s where support groups come in. As MaryJo Moorhead said, “You can sit with a group of people and there is nothing you can say or do that someone hasn’t said before or done before.”

That is the fabric of an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group. No judgment. One day everyone is laughing because your loved one has done something incredibly funny. The next time, a box of tissues is being passed around the room.

The Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter offers 11 Alzheimer’s caregiver support groups to help local caregivers cope with the emotions and skills of being a caregiver. The great thing about the support groups is that they are built around the needs of the caregiver. Family members can use the time to exercise emotional self-care.

“Caregiver support groups can be a lifeline during the pandemic,” said Rebecca Hall, program director for the Miami Valley Alzheimer’s Association. “Caregivers may be receiving less outside assistance to help with the care of their loved one — and that adds to their stress. Sharing experiences can help decrease stress and isolation that caregivers are feeling.”

Because of the pandemic, the Miami Valley Chapter has been experimenting with additional types of caregiver support. Every Wednesday and Friday, the chapter hosts “Caregiver Corner,” a 20-minute noontime chat on the chapter’s Facebook page. Each day a different topic is discussed. In addition, a new Alzheimer’s caregivers Facebook group has been started on the Miami Valley Alzheimer’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/alzdayton.

Hall said the Association is trying to be helpful to as many people as possible. “Caregiving for a loved one is at times a burden; other times a gift. But in all times, as a caregiver, you need to carve out time to care for yourself,” she said.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive fatal brain disease that kills nerve cells and tissues in the brain, affecting an individual’s ability to remember, think and plan. The Miami Valley Chapter makes care and support available to 30,000 people aged 65 and older who live with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, 100,000 people are affected through their role as caregivers.

All support groups are led by trained volunteers. Many are former caregivers. Because of the pandemic, support groups are meeting over the telephone.

Moorhead said when she first started attending a support group “I was angry. There tends to be one person in the family who does the caregiving and I was the one person.” While she had two living siblings at the time, she said she did not understand how she became the primary caregiver for their mother. “Do you not understand you are sacrificing me? How is my life not as important as yours?” she said she often thought.

The support group helped her get over those feelings. She said she often finds that people still attend, even after their loved one has passed, because they hope to make the care journey smoother for others. The bond built in a support group is often hard to break.

Dennis P. Moriarty said, “I find the virtual meetings very easy to join, and I really appreciate the email reminders. I am always taking notes during the education programs. Sometimes caregiving becomes hard as outside stress increases. They remind me that in order for me to be helpful to my wife, I have to take care of myself and take breaks, even if it is only for five minutes at a time.”

In addition to attending a support group, Moriarty said he has attended Alzheimer’s educational programs and used the Association’s 24/7 Helpline, which is 800-272-3900.

“Trying to deal with a problem alone is a losing situation. Knowing that the Alzheimer’s Association is just a phone call away is just like when you tell your loved one and children ‘If you need me, I am only a call away.’ Anytime that you call the Alzheimer’s Association, there is always a listening ear on the other end, and they may not always have an answer right away, but they always know where to find it.”

To learn more about the chapter’s support groups, go towww.alz.org/dayton/helping_you or call the Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Edwina Blackwell Clark is director of communications of the Alzheimer’s Association, Miami Valley Chapter. She can be emailed at edblackwellclark@alz.org.