Care for Caregivers: Groups Offer a Unique Support for Caregivers

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By: DJ Fomby, Andrea Skoglund, and Stephen Collazo, MD Anderson Social Work Counselors

"There was a narrowing of my vision; nothing mattered except helping him survive."
Caregiver 4 Caregiver Group Participant

The acute nature of a patient's illness and the need for swift treatment often means that the patient's needs supersede all other considerations as the family focuses on the patient's survival. Caregivers experience tunnel vision, or as one caregiver explained, "There was a narrowing of my vision; nothing mattered except helping him survive." This contracted outlook often means that caregivers, especially spouses, neglect their own needs.

Another common feeling caregivers experience is a sense of loneliness. Typically, the caregiver has primary, if not sole, responsibility for the patient's care. This can mean a support role as extensive as around-the-clock oversight of the patient's condition by that caregiver. Hobbies, friendships and even the caregiver's career may be put on hold so that the obligation to care for the patient can be fulfilled.

While friends and family may try to offer assistance and support, a feeling of "you don't know what it's like for me" is both common and reasonable. These feelings of isolation, along with a singular focus on meeting the needs of a loved one, can lead to caregiver burnout. Symptoms of burnout include enduring fatigue, feeling overwhelmed or trapped, anger, guilt and depression.

For many people, joining a support group helps them to address their situation and cope with burnout. By definition, support groups bring together individuals experiencing similar life challenges to reduce feelings they may be experiencing. In most support groups, professional facilitators are there to encourage participants to share their personal experiences and encourage group members to offer anecdotal support and guidance in response to one another's challenges.

At MD Anderson the Department of Social Work hosts a support group exclusively for the caregivers of our patients. Care 4 Caregivers is held each Tuesday, 12:30-1:30 p.m., in the Patient/Guest Relations area of the Rotary House International hotel. Participants are encouraged to share feelings and challenges they face in their role as caregivers, while offering strategies for coping and support to each other. By sharing their experiences with one another, participants realize they are not alone in their caregiving struggles. As a result, members begin to develop the knowledge, resources and strength to meet their caregiving challenges.  

We ask that only caregivers attend this group so that they can speak freely about any caregiving issues they may be facing. If individuals with cancer wish to attend a group, there are several groups designed specifically for people living with cancer that would be more appropriate for their needs.

For more information about the Care 4 Caregivers support group, please contact DJ Fomby, 713-792-6824, or Andrea Skoglund, 713-563-2397.

If you are not able to attend this particular group but still have an interest in attending any support group, please talk with the social worker in your clinic about other groups that might be available at MD Anderson or in your own community.

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