Help for the helpers: Caregiver group provides support

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE — When the stress of caring for her aging mother gets to Susan Jones, there’s a place she can go.

Jones, 61, of Dearborn Heights, attends one of two caregiver support groups in the city sponsored by Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency.

The groups meet at 10 a.m. the first and third Wednesday of each month at Trinity Lutheran Community Building, 465 Oak, and 5 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, 2333 Biddle.

They are designed to provide instruction and support to those caring for elderly family members suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and other memory disorders. It covers issues ranging from nutrition and challenges of driving to dealing with the stress caused by adopting a caregiver role.

“It’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Jones said of the group, which she has attended for two years. “It enables me to open up and to cry if I have to, laugh if I have to, listen to mentors who have been through this. It just helps all the way around, just to be there.”

For Jones, one of the most challenging aspects of caring for her 84-year-old mother, who is in the early stages of dementia, is adjusting to a reversal of roles.

“Now what’s happening is I’ve become the mom and she’s the child,” Jones said. “How do you discipline your mother, or make your mother understand what’s happening?”

Nancy Coman, who runs the groups, said taking on an authoritative role with a parent can be one of the most challenging aspects for a caregiver. She said many in the groups find caring for a parent can come with feelings of anger, resentment and guilt. She seeks to help ease that transition for them.

“We try to advise them to come and seek help and talk about their situation,” Coman said. “They discover if they do come, they might feel their load is a little lighter. There’s a light ahead in their journey.”

Coman said the group members also benefit from meeting other people who are in their circumstances. They often befriend each other and offer advice and friendship outside of the group.

The group also includes mentors –former caregivers whose parent or loved one once suffering from a memory disorder has died. Some of them continue to come and share their experience with those currently dealing with the same issues.

Norm Strachan, of Lincoln Park, has been in the group since 2004, but stayed on as a mentor after his wife, Marlene, died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. He said he felt he could share some of the knowledge he gained while caring for her with the group.

“I’ve already walked in their shoes,” Strachan said. “Unless you’ve been there, you can’t totally appreciate everything the caregiver is going through. It’s the caregiver who needs the support.”

For Jones, mentors like Strachan are integral to the caring and understanding atmosphere of the groups and part of the reason she keeps coming back.

“Being able to relate to people who have experienced everything you’re going through makes you understand that you’re not alone,” she said.

Additional groups also are located in Romulus, Redford, Woodhaven and Westland. Call (734)-955-6752 ext. 228 for more information.