‘They helped me get through the rough times.’ Alzheimer’s support group feeds body and soul

Brenda Richards took care of her mother for almost nine years before she passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.

When they received the diagnosis, it was terrifying. Richards didn’t know anything about the disease and quickly realized she needed some advice. Then she found the Rowan County Alzheimer’s Support Group that meets at Trinity Oaks senior living community in Salisbury, and her whole life changed.

“I had to take care of my mom all by myself, so not having anyone to bounce things off of was a struggle,” Richards said. “This group provided me with so much information.”

Supporting caregivers

The support group, which is geared for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, meets at Trinity Oaks the fourth Thursday of every month and is supported by the western chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The group began about eight years ago and is facilitated by Teresa Dakins, community outreach coordinator for Trinity at Home, which is located on the Trinity Oaks campus.

“There were already two support groups in the county, so we pooled our resources to make a better group,” Dakins said. “And it has proven to be very successful. The (Alzheimer’s) Association says if you have two to five people, that’s a successful group. We have 10-to-15 and sometimes 20.”

The meeting always begins with a meal— which is an act of compassion since many of those who attend come straight from work or spending all day caring for their loved one— and then turns into whatever the group needs it to be.

Sometimes there’s a set topic, like games that can be played with their family member or financial resources that are available. But sometimes the meeting is more of a sharing time, so members can ask questions and discuss their feelings and give advice to each other on how to navigate the diagnosis.

“It’s a very scary diagnosis, and no two people are alike, so that makes it even harder. So what works for me might not work for you. That’s the benefit when a group of this size come together,” Dakins said. “You can have a lot of different opinions and thoughts on what works, what didn’t work, what their family tried or what the doctor suggested.”

Dakins also tries to bring in speakers who are experts in fields that might interest the group. They’ve ranged from elder law attorneys, funeral home staff, representatives from Hospice, and Teepa Snow, a well-known trainer and consultant who provides support and training to caregivers around the world.

“It’s good for the members of the group to be able to come and have a nice meal, and they are able to share with each other in a more intimate setting,” Dakins said. “A lot of their loved ones have maybe passed on or been placed in care at this point, but they still feel they need to come back and give back to the group about what they’ve been through. So I feel very blessed they still continue to come and get something out of the group.”

My turn to be here for somebody else

The first support group meeting that Richards attended was actually a presentation given by Snow. Richards said she learned so much that day she began attending the meeting regularly.

First, the group helped her find Trinity Living Center, which gave her some much-needed respite time during the day. Then it helped her connect with Department of Social Services and get her mother qualified for Medicaid. After that, she was able to get her mother a bed in a skilled nursing community in Spencer, North Carolina. She lived there for about 15 months before she passed away.

“This group helped me with everything. I wouldn’t have known anything. I was at a total loss,” Richards said. “I love this group. That’s why I keep coming back because they were such a help to me and helped me get through all the rough times. It’s my turn to be here for somebody else.”

For more information about the Rowan County Alzheimer’s Support Group call Teresa Dakins at 704-603-2778.

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