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Constance Alexander: Meetings offer safe space for caregivers seeking information and solace


Once a month, a klatsch of caregivers carves out sixty minutes to attend a support group at the Senior Citizen Center on Poplar Street in Murray. The one-hour meetings offer a retreat that renews and restores — with help from a box of fresh doughnuts — providing insights and encouragement that help endure long days of taking care of loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s.

At the start of the session, the facilitator assures us we operate “Vegas Style,” meaning what happens here stays here. Anonymity allows people to express what is on their minds, assuring privacy and safe harbor.

(Provided image from Pixabay)

As we introduce ourselves and describe our caregiving roles, it becomes obvious that we share common ground. Whether spouse, sibling, friend, in-law, son, or daughter, we play a part in taking care of a loved one whose memory is fading.

In many cases, we have no definite diagnosis, no precise name for the culprit that has stolen our loved one. We are not alone, the facilitator explains, reminding us that more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia.

“Dementia is not a specific disease,” she adds. “It’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms.”

The discussion moves easily between past and present struggles. “We can’t leave her home much longer,” a daughter remarks about her mother.

“She’s very forgetful and her medicine is more of an issue. I’m concerned about falls. Hygiene, or lack of it, is a problem.”

A few who share the same fears nod in agreement.

Besides worrying about a loved one’s well-being, other caregivers express reactions of loneliness, inadequacy, and a little panic about the future as they reflect on the challenges of caregiving.

“It’s not good to see someone you love go through this,” a woman remarks, adding that she never expected to be confronted with her husband’s Alzheimer’s because he is younger than she is.

“I guess God’s got other plans for me,” she says.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Another caregiver admits that seeing a loved one fade away is heart-breaking. She has taken on the responsibility mostly by herself because her kids are all out of state. “Everybody’s got their own pandemic,” she says.

Another woman speaks about her husband, who resides in a local skilled nursing facility. “He’s more or less a shell but he’s healthy,” she reports.

“Four to eight years is an average prognosis,” the facilitator tells us.

She looks around the room, making eye contact with each one as she emphasizes the importance of self-care for caregivers. “Take time for yourself,” she advises. “You have to find a window of time for yourself.”

A husband and wife have come on behalf of her mother, a widow whose dementia is progressing. The woman lives with her second husband who does not pay attention to his wife’s condition. She is still driving but cannot remember why she is in the car or what she intended to purchase at the store. He expects her to cook, which creates dangerous situations that are further complicated by sun-downing, the confusion that results in agitation and paranoia that gets worse as afternoon ebbs into evening.

“She lives in the moment,” the daughter explains. “We don’t know what to do,” her husband says.

The meeting time goes quickly and a man who takes care of his wife apologizes that he has to leave. “I only have an hour,” he explains.

We do not exit empty-handed. There are left-over doughnuts, there for the taking, and the facilitator suggests that we seek online resources, such as the Savvy Caregiver Program, developed in conjunction with experts and researchers from the University of Minnesota, Emory University, Duke University, and Michigan State University. According to the website, “it can help you reduce stress in your life while creating a better life for your loved one with memory loss or dementia.”

The group meets again on November 18, 10 a.m., at the Senior Citizen Center in Murray. Dacia Barger, Services Director for the Center, will be the facilitator.


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