Support Groups For Seniors With Chronic Disease: Setting Up A Community of Older Patients And Spouses

Part of staying fit as a senior can involve being connected to a community of like-minded individuals. When cancer or other chronic disease strikes, such a support group can make a huge difference in both bodily healing and emotional well-being. Of course, confidentiality is necessary in any such group to ensure emotional well-being of participants.

Group for Seniors with Chronic Diseases

There is a need for this group to meet separately from the senior caregiver group since their basic issues are specific so their situation. The patients, by definition, are tuned in to their immediate physical and medical needs. They need to concentrate on this in order to survive both physically and emotionally.

Chronic pain is often a challenge they must face and often dread. The older adults with serious illness have particular problems to be dealt with including grief as well as continued medical, financial and personal struggles.

Group for Senior Caregivers and Spouses

The issues and needs of this group are completely different from those of the patient group. Even though the senior caregivers share the same concerns as the patients, they also have particular issues of their own. Stress is one of the number one senior caregiver problems. Older adults who take care of chronically ill patients often end up with illnesses of their own which are either caused by, or worsened by, stress.

These senior caregivers are often so busy attending to doctor appointments, medications, figuring out how to survive financially, and offering daily care to the patient in question that their own needs can go unnoticed. The need for respite and renewal is great in order to avoid burnout.

Facilitators Needed for Both Groups of Seniors

The seniors who face chronic illness daily find it helpful if they have a trained facilitator. It often needs to be a volunteer since there are not usually extra funds available to fund such services. It could be a medical doctor, nurse, social worker, or counselor. Some groups have even found a lay person involved with Can Care (an organization dedicated to the needs of cancer patients) or some similar organization can meet this vital need.

The older adults who act as caregivers also need a facilitator, but can manage if one can’t be found. Just having a forum to discuss the complexities of senior caregiving can be therapeutic for this group. At times, a facilitator can be found to come monthly with a group which meets weekly. No doubt more regular attendance would be ideal, but often can’t be easily found.

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One way to find a group leader is to check with local mental health facilities or the local college or medical school for a trainee who needs field experience. Even though most groups prefer an experienced professional, it is worth considering acceptance of trainees or interns since they often put their heart and soul into these types of learning opportunities. Seniors may be tempted to write off the value of student practitioners, yet this may be a good source to tap.

Shared Social Activities for Both Groups

This provides much-needed social bonding in a setting outside of the setting of illness. Celebrations such as birthdays or other significant occasions allow the group to focus on something other than illness and its related challenges.

A model has been presented for support groups for seniors with chronic diseases and their older adult spouses or caregivers. Regular meetings divided into patient and caregiver groups is advised and a trained facilitator is preferred. Such support groups for folks of the elder population who face daily challenges can be of great help to all concerned.

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