Emotional and psychological support
Allied health professionals can provide emotional and psychological support just through talking and listening. Having their experiences of caring – the positives and negatives, the losses and the grief – heard and validated can bring a sense of relief to carers.
Carer support groups provide a place to talk, listen and learn from others in a similar situation. Carers report that attending support groups has positive effects for their health and wellbeing (9). This is largely due to the practice of ‘mutual aid’ and shared problem-solving resulting in feeling heard, normalising feelings and reducing isolation.
Some support groups for carers of a person living with dementia are facilitated by allied health professionals with skills in group work. Some groups invite guest speakers to provide information about various topics suggested by the members of the group.
Counsellors, psychologists and social workers:
- can listen in a non-judgemental and supportive way, and help carers identify and understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and develop strategies to assist.
Occupational therapists, psychologists and neuropsychologists:
- can provide explanations about the abilities and strengths of a person living with dementia, and where cognitive impairment can impact on everyday function. This understanding can support carers to provide specific care, while encouraging independence where possible.
Dementia advisors, key workers, psychologists and social workers:
- facilitate carer support groups.
Eleanor has been caring for her mother since her mum fell and fractured her skull, which caused a delirium and revealed she had an underlying dementia. Eleanor initially lived nearby, visiting often, then moved in with her mum. She is determined to maintain her own life as much as possible, with teaching commitments and time away from home. But there are a lot of restrictions, and she finds it very challenging. She finds the carers’ support group she attends invaluable, despite being initially sceptical. Part of its value lies in talking to people in similar circumstances and being able to vent feelings without judgement. But it’s also seeing that others, too, need time out and need support.
On top of that, there are the skills and insights gained from the allied health professional who leads discussions, and from some of the techniques taught at the group, such as meditation.
Comment from dementia advisor and psychologist Anne
From the beginning, Eleanor felt she needed to maintain her own life to be able to provide the care she does, and that she needed a break from time to time. Going to the support group has normalised those feelings for her and given her some specific skills she found useful, such as mindfulness. The support group meets each month in a public library, and there’s a set theme with either a talk from a guest speaker, or some discussion led by me. It’s been going a long time now, and is well attended.
The National Dementia Helpline is an Australian Government funded initiative.