Who can we talk with about our predicament, who isn’t tired of hearing it or just doesn’t have any frame of reference to really understand what we are going through?  It is terribly easy to become isolated.  Since conversation isn’t an easy thing to accomplish when words for one are difficult to find, let alone get out where they can be heard, a longing to talk and listen and be understood. 

Last Thursday evening Mary Ann and I attended a monthly Parkinson’s Support group meeting in our area.  The group varies in size, but lately I would guess there have been thirty-five to forty-five of us in attendance. 

I remember the first support group we attended just a few years into Mary Ann’s diagnosis.  It was in another city — a large group with Parkinsonians at all levels of symptoms.  I can remember seeing one man in particular who was so dyskinetic that it was all he could do just to stay on the chair, arms and legs flying everywhere.  I suspected it would be so.  After that visit to a support group, it has been all but impossible to get Mary Ann to another one anywhere.  It just seemed scary to see the possibilities for her future right there before her eyes.  It was a denial shattering experience. 

Now that I am retired, we have started attending a local Support Group.  Mary Ann is now far enough along in the progression of the disease that there are few, if any, more debilitated than she is present at any given meeting.  Last Thursday was one of the times we separate into two groups, Caregivers and Carereceivers.  Those who attend the support group seem to especially appreciate the evenings we divide into the two groups. 

There is an agreement we make when we head into our respective rooms.  What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.   We are free to talk openly about our respective struggles without concern that what we say will be shared with anyone outside those gathered there.  That means, I will not share what was said, at least in specific terms, only in general terms. 

Both Mary Ann and I especially appreciated our respective group conversations last Thursday.   In the Caregiver group, we share our unique circumstances and our central problem.  We understand each other.  We help each other by sharing how we have dealt with challenges that are just coming over the horizon for others.  We pool our knowledge and each leaves with a new piece of information, a new possibility for dealing with whatever we are going through at the moment.  If nothing else, we have had a chance to vent for a moment with people who actually do understand what we are going through. 

It takes courage to break out of our isolation and open ourselves to people, most of whom we barely know.  When I was working full time, my circumstances allowed me to talk freeling with caring people with whom I worked.   When I retired, that outlet ceased.  That support group ended.  I realize now even better just how important it is to take seriously the need to connect regularly with people who are traveling the same landscape, who can support us in very concrete ways with information and insight. 

The Leader who facilitates our group on the evenings we divide into the two groups is the Caregiver Program Specialist for this Area’s Agency on Aging.  The website for our Area Agency is www.jhawkaaa.org. I suspect that in most other areas there are such programs available.  We discovered that help is available for some of the equipment that is needed to help with the mobility and safety of our Loved Ones. We discovered that there are programs that provide respite care so that Caregivers can have a break from hours to days, including overnight.  There is even some funding that allows that care to be given at little or no cost to folks who need the help, with no income guidelines restricting its use.  While there may or may not be funds in your area, it is important to look for support options.  We cannot do this for long by ourselves.  For our sake and the sake of our Loved One, seek support options. 

In our case, the combination of family, Volunteers, paid workers from private agencies, and County or Regional programs for the Aging combine to help us find a balance that raises our quality of life.  For those who have earned income and must use paid help to keep working, there is a tax credit available for dependent care. 

One piece in the support puzzle for me is an online group for the spouses of those who have Lewy Body Dementia.  Since Mary Ann has now been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, the group has been a meaningful addition to my world of Caregiving.  That group is available at any time day or night.  They are as close as the keyboard on the computer.   Members of that group share completely openly, confident that others understand.  Someone in that group has been, is now, or will be experiencing their plight.  Members can cry on each other’s shoulder or laugh at the silliness we sometimes encounter.  Whatever the chronic disease that lives at your place, there is likely to be an online group to be found by searching for the name of the disease adding words like support or support groups.  I found this group through the Lewy Body Dementia Association site,  www.lbda.org.

Caregivers do not only give the hands-on care, we are charged with the task of seeking out and managing options for support that keep us and our Loved Ones safe and healthy.  When someone asks what he/she can do to help, suggest conducting a search of resources.  As Caregivers we are often overwhelmed with the steady stream of needs.  It is important for each of us to move out of our isolation and through our reticence to reach out to others for support. 

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