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Ask a Caregiver: Joining a support group makes a difference

Published Date:

Mel KuntemeierMel Kuntemeier is a caregiver and current volunteer at the Smith Alzheimer’s Center’s Beyond the Medical Center programs. If you would like to submit a question, please email

Q: I don’t know what I’d get out of going to a caregiver support group. What really are the benefits?

MEL: Some of the benefits include, but are not limited to:

1) A source of additional resources and information about the disease and how to become a better caregiver.

2) Emotional support. A confidential gathering where you learn that, as caregivers, you may be in different boats but are ALL in the same storm!

3) You learn how to better take care of yourself as a caregiver. As a guy, I had the “I don’t need any help” mentality. I now realize how dumb and dangerous that was, but it took the doctor asking what was going on that my blood pressure and blood sugar levels were going through the roof.

Not to mention my oldest son looked me in the eye and directly asked: “Dad, if you get down, who takes care of the both of you?” That was a major wake-up call for me!

Q: The holidays are coming up. How can I help make get-togethers enjoyable for everyone?

MEL: I would suggest being as open and as honest with family as you are comfortable, while preserving the respect and dignity that your loved one still deserves. You do not want to surprise or shock family members who have not seen the loved one in a while and have no clue where they are in this dementia journey.

Keep the celebrations simple. You do not need to spend days of preparing in the kitchen and hours cleaning up. If most of the folks are local, have them bring something.

If not, one of the local grocery stores may offer some holiday meal packages where you pick up and then just “heat & serve.” Leftovers can be sent home with family members.

Tell family members to converse with the loved one as they normally would. Talk with them; not at them; but keep in mind that they may or may not be able to respond as they used to. Show them respect and help to preserve their dignity as much as possible. While the ability to articulate will be diminished as the disease progresses, the brain may still be processing feelings and emotions.

Q:  My loved one doesn’t want to do the same activities they used to. How can I encourage them?

MEL: This is unfortunately quite common and can be a tough one to deal with. Try offering to do the activity with them perhaps, or get a good friend to.

You can also look for other activities they might be interested in. Try some new things, and look at the activities at your local senior center. For example, SIU offers some programs such as Art Express, Stepping Up, Minds in Motion, etc. — all activities geared to both the loved one and their caregiver.

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