Caring for an elderly loved one can be a thankless task. It can also be an emotionally draining one. Experts believe anywhere between 40% to 70% of unpaid caregivers suffer from some form of clinical depression, and studies have found that caregiver stress puts a serious strain on family caregivers.
Family members who provide care for their loved ones are at higher risk of addiction, chronic disease, and mental health concerns. In one particularly jarring study, researchers found that unpaid caregivers had a 63% higher mortality rate.
As America’s population of seniors grows, our nation’s population of family caregivers is growing too, leaving more and more Americans vulnerable to caregiver stress. This year, more than 35 million Americans will provide unpaid care to a family member or a friend over the age of 50. That number is expected to exceed 40 million in just a few years.
One solution to the epidemic of caregiver stress has been caregiver support groups. These groups give unpaid caregivers a place where they can meet and speak with others in a similar situation. In a caregiver support group, a person suffering from caregiver stress can benefit from:
- Having a space where they can vent and safely voice their frustrations.
- Feeling less isolated by hearing stories from others in similar situations.
- Getting advice on caregiving strategies.
- Learning new coping methods for stress.
- Relieving stress through the therapeutic power of community.
Experts believe that these groups are one of the most effective ways for caregivers to cope with the stress of caring for a loved one. But to see these benefits, family caregivers first need to find a caregiver support group. That can be difficult if you don’t know where to start your search.
How Caregivers Can Find Support Groups
Finding a caregiver support group near you is often fairly simple. All it takes is asking the right people or searching in the right places. If you’re looking for a local caregiver support network, the following three strategies can help you find the right group for you.
- Search Online. You can often find local caregiver support groups through a quick search on Google and/or Facebook. Just type in “caregiver support group” or “caregiver support network” and the name of your community. Note that many groups don’t operate their own websites or Facebook pages, so information on these groups may be provided by other organizations. If you can’t find a suitable group through Google or Facebook, consider performing a search using the online Eldercare Locator provided by the US Administration on Aging.
- Ask Around. Another great way to find a caregiver support group in your area is by speaking with groups that work with local seniors. These organizations come in contact with family caregivers all the time, so they are usually knowledgeable about local caregiver support networks. Some great places to start include local charities that operate senior-focused programs, faith groups within your community, or a senior care agency in your area.
- Specialty Groups. Some communities have support groups for caregivers who are caring for loved ones with specific conditions. For instance, if you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, you may wish to join an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group. You can search for specialized caregiver support networks on the websites for the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, National Parkinson Foundation, and National Stroke Association.
Alternatives to In-Person Support Groups
What do you do if you can’t find any suitable group in your area? In this case, you might want to consider joining an online support group. While a virtual support group isn’t as effective for most people as in-person meetings, online networks still have a lot to offer. In fact, many caregivers who join in-person support networks will also join online groups, which they can access whenever they need a supportive space. You can find online support groups here at The Caregiver Space.
Another idea might be to start a caregiver support network on your own. Starting a fully-formed support group might be more than you can currently handle, so it’s generally best to start with a small, informal group. If you know two or three other people in your area who also care for elderly loved ones, ask them if they would be interested in a meeting. If the first meeting is successful, consider reconvening once or twice a month.
Beyond a support group, you might also want to seek out help with care. If you are suffering from caregiver stress, consider speaking with other family members or a local respite care provider about taking some of the burdens of care off your shoulders. To learn about respite care options offered by your local Visiting Angels, call 800-365-4189 today or contact your local office directly.