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Posted: February 08, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

Thumbs Up: A Psychologist's Perspective of Support Groups

Bill Andrew

In my last column, I presented a comprehensive rationale about support groups and their potential benefits for family caregivers, including spousal caregivers. In this column, I want to present the perspective of a clinical psychologist friend of mine, Kevin M. Kindelan, PhD, on the value of support groups.

Kindelan has supported my efforts as both a 24/7 family caregiver for my wife, Carol, and for my role as the facilitator for a successful Alzheimer's support group here in Winter Haven, Florida. He has made several presentations to our group and has attended support group meetings over the past six years.

I asked Kindelan to discuss the benefits of attending a support group for Alzheimer's disease caregivers from both a personal and clinical perspective. Kindelan is a Florida-licensed psychologist who received his bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from the Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul, his undergraduate training in psychology at the University of Miami, his master’s degree in psychology from Xavier University in Cincinnati, and his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Ottawa in Canada.

His experience includes eight years as a hospital-based psychologist, including two years as director of the hospital's community mental health center. After that, he worked as a psychologist/neuropsychologist at a neurology practice and has been in private psychology practice since. He has served as an adjunct professor of psychology at Florida Southern College in Lakeland and as clinical director of the Polk County Critical Incident Stress Management team.

What follows is Kindelan's personal testimony on the benefits of support groups. His comments apply to all family caregivers, regardless of the clinical environment.

"When my wife, Kathy, and I learned that we were going to be the parents of twin daughters, we first called our parents and family. These were our, and probably your, first line of support and love. We then began reading as much as we could find on successfully parenting twins and the impact of their birth on their 3-year older sister.

"Soon after the birth of the twins, we sought out a support group for parents of multiple births. Fortunately, we discovered such a group locally and began to be active participants.

"Our mutual progression from initial support of family and friends to support from the Written Word to support from a group of like-minded people was natural, beneficial, and healthy. Hopefully, the reader has investigated local support groups focused on their loved one's disease or disability; if not, I would urge you to do so at your earliest convenience. I hope that you will also find a natural, beneficial, and healthy pathway leading to attendance at such a support group as Kathy and I did.

"As a licensed psychologist in private practice, I often refer caregivers to various applicable support groups. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease or other memory-related disorder, I refer them to the support group facilitated by Bill Andrew. The reasons are as plentiful as the benefits are priceless. Often, caregivers like yourself often feel isolated from family, friends, and the community due to the heavy demands of your sacred caregiver role. A major benefit of attending a support group is a realization -- sometimes like a bolt of lightening -- that you are not alone. You find that others have the same reactions, thoughts, and feelings. This environment of being with caregivers in a similar role has the benefit of increasing your personal feelings of being safe and secure when you talk about your personal situation.

"At another level, a support group will lead you to learn new skills, coping strategies, and ways of practically completing caregiver tasks. You will also learn new attitudes or alternative ways of thinking and perceiving the various situations that you will encounter during your caregiver journey. In addition, you will learn new information when experts present educational opportunities and ideas on available caregiver services, the course of the disease or disability, and the very nature of caregiving.

"A unique feature of attending a support group is that you are both a receiver and a giver, both a student and a teacher, both an expert and a learner. That is, while you do receive both care and support from others, you also give care and support to others. Indeed, if you are having a particularly 'good day', that may be the very day that you should attend the support group so as to help another caregiver who may be struggling.

"What is always present in a support group is the feeling that you are in control. You are in the driver's seat in that you can say as much or as little as you feel comfortable doing. Your presence in the support group is also testimony of your love for your spouse (or other loved one). You learn ways to better care for your loved one while you also learn ways to be a healthier caregiver yourself. This is a 'win/win' situation for all concerned."

Personally, I think that "caring" is what support groups are all about -- a caregiver support group is all about "caring" for the caregiver. Participation in a support group can be critical for survival as a spousal family caregiver -- AND for the care of the loved one. I can attest "first-hand" to the value of support groups -- both as a participant and as a facilitator -- in my personal "journey" as the 24/7 spousal family caregiver for my wife, Carol, for almost 13 years. Carol and I have survived thus far -- how about you?

If you have any comments or thoughts about the above, drop me a line at ASKBill@caregivershome.com and I will share them with other readers in a future column.

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted

is the worst poverty of all."

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-97)

___

Click here to read Bill’s previous column on support groups.


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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