Would You Find Support Groups Helpful?
The answer is: PROBABLY
Support Groups exist because many people find it very comforting to meet regularly with a group of people who are experiencing a similar situation, where the intent is to support each other in a “judgment-free” space. During a support group meeting, members can learn from each other, share concerns, celebrate successes, and be a shoulder to cry on. There are people who gain a lot from going to support groups. If you’re trying to decide whether you should seek out and join a group, here are few things to consider.
Let’s start by discussing in more detail the general pros and cons of attending support groups:
Possible benefits to support group therapy
- Knowing that you are not alone. Just hearing that others are having similar experiences and sharing challenges and successes can help you feel better.
- Living with MCI is hard. By sharing what you’re struggling with and being able to “unload” to people who understand can help you feel better.
- Learning about tips and resources from others who are going through the same issues can be helpful. Some groups stay away from offering any advice, while others dedicate time on sharing practical tips and tricks, as well as resources. You’ll often hear things like “This is what works for us”, or “Have you heard about this great workshop about savvy caregiving being offered next month?”
- Feeling comfortable and confident in a social situation. There is no need to explain what MCI is or to “hide” the diagnosis. Support groups offer a safe environment where the MCI patient can feel less self-conscious and not worry about forgetting or making mistakes in a social context.
- Preparing for the future. When individuals - with varying personalities, backgrounds, situations, level of MCI severity - come together, they can act like a “hive mind” of information and insight - thereby creating a powerful collective of knowledge. People often report feeling better able to deal with the present and plan for the future if in case the disease progresses, because of support groups.
Possible disadvantages to support group therapy
- If you’re an introvert, the idea of talking about something personal to a group of strangers can be terrifying. You may not only be shy, but you are feeling especially vulnerable or fragile. Typically, it should be absolutely fine if you do not want to share or talk during support group – you can just be there to listen. If you are worried about this, you can tell the moderator ahead of time and ask that they do not call on you or pressure you to talk.
- You may experience negative feelings, such as anger, guilt, frustration, sadness. You may feel worse after hearing from others for whom the condition has gotten worse, possibly progressing to dementia. It can be emotionally difficult to learn what the future might hold and what to expect if MCI is mild for you.
- Sometimes a group doesn’t “gel”. Group dynamics can differ from group to group, and even the same group can have a great meeting and then have an ok meeting the next time. It may just take time for members to get comfortable with each other, but remember that if a particular group isn’t a good fit for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another group wouldn’t work out really well.
Finding a local support group
The reality is that you never really know if you would like attending support groups until you try it out. If you are at all considering it, give it go! While support groups are not for everyone, remember the importance of being socially engaged. Having a strong support network helps your mood, resilience, cognitive function, and other things related to brain health and happiness!
So how do you find a group? One place to start is with organizations dedicated to aging or memory loss, such as the Alzheimer’s Association or the Council on Aging. Local memory care centers, universities, and hospitals often host support groups. Another place to look for groups includes the community, such as local church groups, senior community centers, or assisted living/retirement communities.
Note that because MCI is relatively less known and diagnosed, it can be hard to find a local one that specifically targets MCI. You may have to extend your search to support groups that address early stage dementia.
Virtual support groups
Don't give up on support groups during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Many groups have now had time to adapt and are offering online groups via platforms like Zoom.
What are your thoughts?
If you have attended support groups for MCI or caregivers, what did you think? We invite everyone to comment below – Tell us about your past experiences with support groups, and let us know what you liked or didn’t like about them. What tips do you have for finding a local support group?