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Tips for finding one that fits


Get out of your comfort zone. Caregiver support groups are underutilized, often because people think they don't have the time or feel self-conscious about speaking about personal subjects with strangers. As Jacobs puts it, "There are a lot of introverts in this world." Try to push yourself through your re- sistance and take the plunge.


Check out the Eldercare Locator and other key resources. You can use the federal government's Eldercare Locator (type in your ZIP code) to find your local Office on Aging and other resources or search for caregiver services. The Alzheimer's Association and CancerCare also offer support group informa- tion.


Find out what the format is. Does the group have a facilitator? Some groups have a trained leader, others don't. You may prefer one over the other. And ask about the group's confiden- tiality policy. You'll want one that follows Las Vegas-style rules: What's said in the group stays in the group.


Know that most groups are free to join. "I would be wary if a fee is being charged," says John Schall, chief executive officer of Caregiver Action Network, a national organization working to improve the lives of the nation's 90 million family caregiv- ers. Some, though, may ask you to join their association and pay dues. That's the case with the nonprofit Well Spouse As-


sociation, but Saunders says they don't turn away anyone who can't pay. (Note that you typically don't need to belong to a church or synagogue or have been treated in a medical center to join a caregiver support group there. Call first if you're concerned, but most likely they'll welcome you with open arms.)


Don't feel obligated to stay with a group if it doesn't feel right for you. "Try out different groups," says Ashley Chapman Ken- neth, chair of the Virginia Caregiver Coalition, a grassroots network of 200 groups. "Every group is different, and every caregiver is different."


Keep an open mind. Especially if you don't have many options in your area, don't dismiss a support group just because it's not perfectly targeted to you. Give it a try. About 80 percent of caregiving challenges are similar — including emotional stress, navigating the health care system and juggling medica- tions — regardless of the medical condition or other factors, so a well-run general caregiver group may meet your needs just fine.


The important thing is to find a space where you can share stories, feelings and advice with people who can relate, without judgment. Knowing that you are not alone can make a world of difference.


A combination of articles reprinted from aarp.org.


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NaturalTriad.com


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