For most couples, going out for a meal or an activity is a normal part of life. But when one of the members of the couple is memory-impaired (with Dementia, Alzheimer’s or other conditions, possibly combined with movement restrictions ), even the simplest activity is filled with anxiety and difficulty. Will my spouse act appropriately with others? What can I do to keep his/her attention focused? How can I enjoy my time out when I am so worried about my spouse’s behavior? Are there others in the community facing the same issues that I am?
JFCS has created a unique program to help caregivers and their spouses with memory impairments to enjoy time out together, combining a caregiver support group with an engaging activity for the care recipient. We piloted the program, called the Dementia Caregiver Connection Group, for four weeks in May, working with Artis Senior Living, a state-of-the-art memory care facility in Princeton Junction.
The morning began with coffee, cake and time to schmooze. Then the caregivers and their loved ones separated for the next hour. I facilitated the caregiver support group where participants could speak openly about the issues that they face on a daily basis and receive suggestions for techniques and resources. In a very short time, the group members bonded and honest conversations abounded. It did not seem to matter that each member’s situation was unique—what mattered was that they could come together to share feelings and experiences, with love and support and without judgment. There is something magical in a support group that is hard to describe—the participants experience such power in being accepted for who they are and what they are experiencing.
While the caregivers met, Artis’ art therapist worked with the care recipients on a variety of projects (woodworking, gardening, art, etc.) After the first session, the art therapist understood the needs and interests of each participant and tailored the activities to their particular personalities. The spouses were engaged and did not seek out their caregiver spouses.
At the end of the hour, the couples reunited for a delicious lunch and time for socialization. Relationships formed; emails exchanged; experiences shared; isolation banished. All care recipients returned despite some initial hesitation. They surprised their spouses with positive attitudes, memories from past weeks (in some cases) and a general sense of well-being after each session.
Many thanks to our partners at Artis who provided their caring, experienced staff, beautiful surroundings and delicious food. We look forward to the start of another four-week group beginning on Thursday, September 6th. For questions and more information, please contact Beverly Rubman at BeverlyR@jfcsonline.org or 609-987-8100 ext. 151.