Starting a caregiver support group takes time,
energy, organization and an ongoing commitment. It is
not a one-person job but it does usually need at least
one energetic, organized person to start the group and
share enthusiasm for its success. Here are some useful
suggestions for developing your own caregiver support
Select a group facilitator that has a background in
gerontology, social work, nursing or other human service
field and has knowledge of caregiving resources. Look
for someone who is empathetic, a good listener and
assertive enough to balance the group to encourage
participation and prevent monopolizing conversations.
Choosing the proper meeting site may depend on space and
availability, however, accessibility and personal
comfort are two important factors to consider. Some
suggestions are: public library, hospital, senior
center, church, or a community room in a senior housing
building. All of these places should be available free
of charge. Some groups have met in a place where they
can also bring their loved one/care receiver such as an
adult day care center or a public library reading area.
Review group interaction guidelines that set the tone
for confidentiality, a non-threatening environment,
openness to freely share, avoiding side conversations,
interruptions and giving each person a chance to speak.
Be careful to stay focused on the purpose of the
caregiver support group and not to turn meetings into
gripe sessions. Try to keep a positive atmosphere that
not only offers support during difficult times but also
brings options and hope for caregivers. For example, the
National Parkinson Foundation suggests that their
support groups be self-help groups run by and for people
with a common challenge or life situation. The group is
not for therapy or a 12-step program.
Choose a time and date that will be most convenient for
caregivers. Monthly groups during the late afternoons or
early evenings have been the most popular or you may
wish to alternate day and evening meetings. Brown bag
lunch gatherings or dessert events can also be
successful. The length of the meeting time should not
exceed two hours. Plan at least a month ahead to allow
time for advertising the group and maintain a consistent
Announce the caregiver support group through community
event calendars in the local newspapers or on cable
networks, post flyers at the library, grocery stores,
clinic waiting rooms and other public places or send
announcements to churches, dining sites and service
organizations that reach out to caregivers and seniors.
Expect the attendance of the group to ebb and flow
especially in the early months as the group is forming.
Encourage family members as well as friends to attend
the meetings. A core group may begin to emerge after
several months as participants find mutual support and
bond with others in the group. Regular attendance also
increased when tasks were delegated and participants
played a part in the group such as helping to set up the
resource table, bringing treats, handing out nametags,
or welcoming newcomers. Another option is to offer free
blood pressures or prize drawings for massages, meal
coupons or other items that support caregivers and
As the group develops, keep it small. The purpose of the
group is to allow time for each person to listen and
share, but this becomes more difficult if the group size
exceeds 12. You may want to consider splitting the group
if it becomes too large and impersonal.
Spend the first few meetings getting to know each other
and identifying the needs and interests of the group.
Educational speakers, videos and presentations can be
scheduled later on. Some groups have decided to
alternate between having a speaker one month and open
discussion the next month.
Create a buddy system and a phone roster so that
participants can call upon each other for help and
support between group meetings.
Finally, remember that each group is as unique as its
leadership and members. Make the most of that uniqueness
and build on the groupís strengths and ideas.
Caregiver groups are designed to offer mutual support,
resources, education and hope for the future.
to find or list a caregiver support group in your area.
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