Support or “self-help” groups are formed by people who share common concerns. The groups may be participant-initiated or sponsored by a health care institution, social services agency or non-profit organization.
A degenerative or terminal illness, or an accident involving a family member, is a traumatic experience for spouse, parents, children and other relatives. Support groups allow those facing the difficult task of daily caregiving to benefit from interaction and support from other people in similar situations.
A support group may work toward mutual problem-solving, coping, dealing with grief and sharing information. Some communities have a network of established support groups; others may have few or none. The following guidelines will assist family members or caregivers interested in forming a support group.
Establishing a Family Support Group
- Determine the focus of your group (e.g., family members of persons with Alzheimer’s, stroke survivors, children caring for aging parents…).
- Establish a contact person whose phone number can be used.
- Enlist the participation of other families in a similar situation, if you know any.
- Seek assistance from medical experts, social workers, or other clinicians who can provide consultation and meeting space, give presentations or facilitate meetings. Good initial contacts may be obtained from existing support groups, nursing homes, hospitals, family physicians, neurologists, counseling and home care services, Adult Day Care programs, senior centers, and local branches of such national organizations as the American Heart Association, the Alzheimer’s Association or the Brain Injury Association. Make sure to leave your name, address, and phone number when contacting professionals or agencies so that they can make referrals to your group.
- Plan a time, place and agenda for the first group meeting.
- Publicize the group by distributing press releases to local newspapers and by posting announcements on community bulletin boards in churches and synagogues, libraries, clinics and senior centers.
- Design an eye-catching flier.
- Try to get a human interest story into the media to help focus community awareness on the problems and to locate families in need of support.
- Talk to local radio and TV stations. You may be able to submit short public service announcements which are typewritten or taped. There is no charge to nonprofit organizations. Announcements should describe the nature of the support group, the time and phone number for more information.
Structure, Goals and Group Process
The group must determine certain procedural and philosophical matters, including:
- How often should the group meet?
- What times are convenient?
- Is the meeting site accessible?
- Who will lead/facilitate the sessions? (It may be helpful, especially in the beginning, if a professional can lead the group or at least make a presentation.)
- Discuss with other participants what they want to get out of the group and how participants might help one another.
- Plan long-term goals: Will the group be used as a vehicle to promote public awareness, to seek out isolated individuals who might like to participate, or will the group concentrate on building rapport among a tight-knit group of members?
- Plan future agendas: Local agencies, national organizations, universities, and public libraries are all potential sources of information. There may be books, films, video tapes, and research articles available for loan that you can share with the group and/or use as a topic of discussion.
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