Groups provide support system, help caregivers meet challenges

By Brandon Martin

Staff Writer

Support groups offered through the Southern Area Agency on Aging took on new meaning for a staff member after her own experience.

“When my sisters and I were told that our Mom had dementia, the doctor handed us a prescription for Arcept, told us to prepare to learn a new language and wished us good luck,” said Stephanie LaPrade, community resources coordinator and PeerPlace administrator for the SAAA. “I knew absolutely nothing about the disease, knew nothing on what to expect and most importantly, knew nothing on how to take care of Mom while she dealt with this horrendous disease.”

LaPrade said that while she was familiar “with the support group offered by Southern Area Agency on Aging, but didn’t see how it would be helpful to Mom. I didn’t realize at the time that the support group would have been immeasurable by teaching me how to deal with Mom’s needs through others’ experiences, and how to do things that would make her feel safe and happy.”

The support group helps build a support system for people who are caregivers, family or friends of individuals dealing with dementia.

Since 2006, the SAAA offers support group meetings for Martinsville-Henry County at their facility every second Wednesday of the month beginning at noon.

In Patrick County, support groups meet at the Landmark Center in Stuart on the fourth Tuesday of each month at noon. The Mountain Top support group meets on the third Tuesday of each month at noon at the Vesta Community Center.

Meeting participants develop a support system, exchange practical information on caregiving challenges and possible solutions, talk through ways of coping, and learn about community resources, LaPrade said.

“At our meetings, we start with serving lunch and a short educational program is presented while everyone eats,” she said. “At that time, the facilitator usually asks each person to introduce themselves and talk about their caregiving experience. After that, anyone can ask questions, ask for advice about specific situations or bring up topics for discussion. If someone would rather not speak, that’s absolutely okay.”

LaPrade added that the biggest benefit of the support groups is the shared experience of all the people involved.

“One of the main benefits of caregiver support groups is that they provide social support,” LaPrade said. “Support groups are a great place to ask for advice or vent frustrations. Since everyone is going through similar situations, there’s no need to worry about judgment from others. Often it is a relief to know that they are not the only one with these feelings. Members validate each other’s experiences.”

The resources available for caregivers looking for a little extra support are another benefit, LaPrade noted.

“The Southern Area Agency on Aging is a wonderful resource for caregivers,” she said. “The agency provides programs such as information and assistance, home-delivered meals, transportation, personal care, care coordination, chore services and respite care which offers the caregiver a few hours off from the care of a family member who is age 60 and older. The average service is three hours, one day per week. Additional respite may be available for the care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.”

LaPrade added that the Alzheimer’s Association offers a toll-free help line at 1-800-272-3900, and that The Edwards Adult Day Care Center provides an opportunity for caregivers to receive several hours of relief at one time while their family member attends the center.

While explaining some of the interactions she’s witnessed at the support groups, LaPrade stressed that every case of dementia is not the same.

“Let me preface by saying if you’ve seen one person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you’ve seen one person with Alzheimer’s or dementia,” she said. “Everyone is unique and not one technique will work with everyone.”

LaPrade shared some successful practices that were discussed in the support groups.

“We learned of a theory [red plate theory] that if food is served on a plain red plate, the person with dementia would consume up to 84 percent more food,” she explained. “A few caregivers tried this theory and it worked.”

She also explained the 15-second rule, which is based on the finding that it takes up to 15 seconds for a person in the later stages of dementia to process a single question or instruction.

“With this information, some of our caregivers now choose their questions more carefully and limit the number of questions they ask so the person with dementia will not become overwhelmed, which can lead to confusion and agitation,” she said.

After her own personal experience, LaPrade has made it her personal mission to make a difference in the lives of others who are going through what she once did.

“After Mom passed away in 2013, and after I had dealt with the grief and guilt for a while, I realized how important it would have been to know more about Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects, not only the person, but how it affects everyone involved,” she expressed. “I began to do research on my own then was given the privilege of  becoming a trained Caregiver Support Group Facilitator through SAAA. Through this training and experience and through any and all other education I can get my hands on, I hope to be able to assist others with what I have learned. If I can make one caregiver’s journey a little easier, then I will be fulfilled. And maybe make Mom proud too.”

The SAAA is a private, not for profit organization which receives federal, state and local funding, as well as fees and contributions from the individuals who receive services. The agency’s mission is to provide services and resources to promote the health, quality of life, and independence of seniors, individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers.

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