Connect with Chicago Caregivers – Part 1: Support Groups

Imagine nine people sitting in chairs arranged in a circle in a quiet room of a community center. There are women and men of different cultural backgrounds, ages, educational levels, and socioeconomic statuses. During the next ninety minutes, some speak a great deal, while some observe quietly. Some speak of their spouses; others discuss their parents. Some have just begun a difficult journey, while others are old pros.

Despite their differences, these nine people have one thing in common: they are all caregivers.

I’m shy by nature. Ever since I was a small child, I hesitated to speak up in class; when I did, my entire head flushed to a deep shade of red. In small groups, especially when I don’t know anyone that well, I marvel at those who talk openly and without nervous hesitation. Conversely, I astonish myself when I interject a comment and hear a voice that resembles Peter Brady going through puberty. “Who is that?” I wonder, until I feebly realize, it’s me.

Despite my moderate case of social anxiety, I’ve witnessed one small group situation that welcomes the shy and gregarious alike – support groups. Alas, support groups sometimes get a bad rap.

Let’s break it down (linguistically, not like MC Hammer). Support indicates a need for encouragement, assistance, and someone to lean on during difficult times. Group signifies the value of many compared to one.

Hmmmm….two concepts that run contrary to the pervasive value of rugged individualism and the notion that we should be able to trudge through on our own, even if it costs us our own well-being. This kind of stubbornness makes me growl, even though I’ve succumbed to such thinking myself.

I’ve seen magic happen in support groups. I’ve watched a husband on the verge of collapse finally concede that it’s time to look at senior living options for his wife with dementia. I’ve seen a daughter caring for her father with cancer finally forgive herself for resenting her uninvolved siblings. I’ve watched a wife who had never talked about the intimacy issues that had surfaced with her ill husband finally open up and start grieving for the life she used to know.

Support Groups

If you’re a caregiver and have never been to a support group, I strongly encourage you to consider one. Connecting with other caregivers is crucial to your caregiver blueprint. If you’re unfamiliar with support groups, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Types of Support Groups

Support groups can be open, meaning anyone can attend without advance notice, or closed, meaning that a screening process is necessary. Closed groups exist for more specialized topics such as early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The screening process isn’t meant to be exclusionary or judgmental; it’s simply a way of ensuring an appropriate fit between the caregiver and the purpose of the group.

Support groups can be ongoing or time-limited. Time-limited groups tend to follow a specific agenda, such as an eight-week support group for caregivers of cancer patients going through chemotherapy. Each week is dedicated to a different topic. Ongoing groups, on the other hand, follow a more fluid agenda.

Finally, support groups can be geared toward providing education, emotional support, social opportunities, or a combination of these things. Be sure to ask any questions you have about the support groups you’re considering to see if you’re comfortable with the parameters.

How to Find Support Groups in Chicago

The best way to find support groups in Chicago is through the good old Internet. If you’re caring for someone with a specific health condition, search for an organization that focuses on that disease, then click through that organization’s website for support groups. Most sites list locations, times, and contact information. You will be amazed at the range of groups available!

Other places to find support groups include hospitals, home health agencies, hospice agencies, senior centers, mental health agencies, churches, and libraries. Ask for calendars listing public events to check for support groups at these locations.

Below are some examples of support groups in the Chicago area. This list is far from complete! It is meant to give you a taste of what is available, but there are literally hundreds more.

Sampling of Chicago Support Groups

Alzheimer’s Association – Greater Illinois Chapter

Where: Chicago State University, 9501 S. King Dr., Room 132
When: Last Friday of the month, 4 PM
Focus: Support for caregivers of persons with dementia
More information: 800-272-3900

Barrington Council on Aging

Where: The Garlands of Barrington, 6000 Garlands Lane, Suite 100
When: First Wednesday of the month, 7 PM
Focus: General support for caregivers
More information: 847-381-5030

Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Where: 251 E. Huron, 3rd Floor, Conference Room C
When: Third Monday of the month, 6 PM
Focus: Support for caregivers of persons with frontotemporal dementia and/or primary progressive aphasia
More information: 312-503-0604

National Alliance on Mental Illness – Illinois Chapter

Where: Kenton Knox Conference Center, 9701 N. Knox, Skokie Hospital Campus
When: First Monday of the month, 7 PM
Focus: Support for families of persons with mental illness
More information: 847-716-2252

American Stroke Association

Where: Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, 3rd Floor, 836 W. Wellington Ave.
When: Second Wednesday of the month, 6 PM
Focus: Support for caregivers and stroke survivors
More information: 773-296-7923

Again, this is a very short sample of the many, many support groups available in the Chicago area. A quick Google search will turn up gems that might be right around the corner. Please comment here on groups you’ve found or that you offer for caregivers – I want this blog to become a rich resource for caregivers who are seeking support.

Stay tuned for Connect with Chicago Caregivers – Parts 2 and 3: Online Communities and Special Events.

And please give support groups a try, even if you are a shy type like me. It’s worth it.

Comments

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  • Really good article. When you are in the midst of trying to take care of somebody you are on autopilot.

    Caring for someone broke me physically, mentally and financially. Support is really important, but many feel that they do not want to bother others.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Richard,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I wholeheartedly agree that caregivers often find themselves so entrenched in daily caregiving that by the time they realize they need support, they have already suffered significantly. I hope that you've been able to recover and replenish your well-being, and I appreciate you sharing your experience with other readers.

    Take care,
    Dr. Chill

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