Get the support you need from the comfort of your home

While the world is sheltering in place, the Alzheimer’s Association continues to offer programs and services delivered to your home, either online or by phone. We spoke with Denise Davis, Program Coordinator, about our virtual support groups.

Denise Davis, Programs Coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association
Denise Davis, Programs Coordinator

The Alzheimer’s Association offers support groups for caregivers and individuals living with dementia and cognitive impairment in the early stage. Trained facilitators lead all our support groups.

Prior to the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic, our Chapter already offered a few virtual support groups, but in March, we worked with our facilitators and followed guidance from state and local public health agencies to convert all our community based programs to virtual ones, including support groups and education.

What is the benefit of continuing to have support groups?
Not being able to gather in the community and having to shelter-in-place can be isolating.  People in all communities across the country are following public health guidelines in an effort to reduce their risk of developing Covid-19.

This change in routine could provide new challenges in their day-to-day life.  By providing programs virtually, we are able to still provide support to those who may be missing their usual social activities, like these groups.

“There are so many benefits of having interactions with peers in a support group,” said Denise. “Our group meetings continue to provide information and emotional support so that participants do not feel alone, especially during these unprecedented times. 

“Those who are providing care for their loved ones with dementia have a wealth of experience to share and can lean on each other for comfort and guidance. The support groups provide social connections and a sense of community and some normalcy.”

“Thank you to you, your colleagues, and volunteers who put together such a robust offering of on-line and phone based educational and support opportunities during this unique and challenging time.”
~Misty, support group member

Are people actually attending?
“Yes!  We have people now attending by telephone or video who were regular attendees at our community based groups,” said Denise. “What is also exciting is we are reaching new people who have never attended a group before.  Many are finding these support programs after calling our 24/7 Helpline or looking on the website.”

“Thank you very much for having this virtual meeting! Look forward to seeing everyone!!”
~Connie, support group member

How is a virtual support group different than an in-person one?
For the most part, virtual support groups are no different than an in-person one. You’re still able to interact with other participants and get the advice and information you normally would.

However, it can be a little more challenging for the support group facilitator. “It’s difficult to read a caregiver’s body language through video,” said Denise. “The facilitators are trained on active listening and pay attention to the person’s tone of voice. It’s harder to pick up someone’s energy through the computer screen or phone.”

“I sure miss seeing everyone in person, but this is the next best way to stay connected!”
~ Tina, support group member

Who should attend a virtual support group?
Groups for those living with with dementia and cognitive loss
We have groups for those living with Alzheimer’s, all other dementia or mild cognitive impairment in the early stage of the disease. Participants should be comfortable discussing their diagnosis and symptoms, and want the opportunity to talk with others. These groups require a pre-screening call.

Groups for caregivers
Care partners or caregivers come from a variety of situations. Some are family members who are providing direct care. Others are friends who help out. Long distance caregivers may live across the country from a loved one with dementia.

“All care partners caring for a family member or dear friend can attend,” said Denise. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been to this group before, or any group at all. You are welcome.”  However, these groups are not for healthcare professionals.

Caregiver calling the support group

Why should someone join a virtual support group?
Denise hopes that more people will join support groups now that they’re so easily accessible. “I know that trying something new, especially around technology, may deter someone from joining a virtual support group, but give it a try! 

“Our facilitators have been working together to practice so they feel more comfortable with the technology.  I personally have helped support group members practice calling in or using video conferencing before the support group in order to help them feel more comfortable.”

Denise encourages all care partners to try a support group. She added, “I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.  They’ll make new connections and feel supported. With everyone sheltering in place and staying isolated, it will feel good to get some social engagement on a topic where everyone understands your situation.”

During this time, the Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter is offering over 100 support groups.  Caregiver support groups are being offered in English, Spanish and Chinese. There is a support group available almost every day, sometimes multiple times in a day, and can be attended by anyone, anywhere in the world. 

If you’re interested in joining a support group please visit our website or call our 24/7 helpline at 800.272.3900.

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