Solid Support

Memory care community sponsors caregiver group.

Certified dementia practitioner Bebe Kelly has worked with the senior population for more than 12 years. She began with independent caregiving and continued on to assisted living and memory care.Bebe Kelly, Tara Tosh and Nancy Nichols discuss the dementia support group offered at Symphony at St. Augustine.

“I’m also a community educator,” Bebe discloses. “I teach the community about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and about the advantages of aging in place. In addition, I run four dementia caregiver support groups, three in Flagler County and one in St John’s County.”

Through her networking circles, Bebe became acquainted with Nancy Nichols, marketing director at Symphony at St. Augustine, a memory care facility for people with dementia. Just before Symphony opened its doors in March 2017, the women spoke about the need for family members to have a place to talk about their caregiving concerns.

“I had already been running several Alzheimer’s support groups, and Nancy and I talked about starting one at Symphony,” Bebe remembers. “We decided to do it, and I began the support group there shortly after they opened in 2017.

“Most support groups run one session a month, but ours meets two days a month. That’s to better assist caregivers in crises. Many times, if someone in crisis has a comfortable place to go, the group can help diffuse many of their issues and lessen their heartache.”

The Symphony support group is not exclusively for caregivers of Symphony residents. Its doors are open to anyone from the greater community caring for someone with dementia. This is one demonstration of Symphony’s commitment to community outreach.

“We support our local community in all aspects,” emphasizes Tara Tosh, Symphony executive director. “We recognize that dementia caregivers are under a great deal of stress, and we want them to know they’re not in this by themselves. We don’t want anyone struggling with dementia to suffer.

“We offer the support group at Symphony to allow those caring for loved ones with dementia to openly express their concerns and not be embarrassed. It’s also a way for them to learn more about the disease process because there are so many unknowns with it.”

A support group is vital for family members dealing with dementia, Bebe insists. It’s a terrible disease that consumes their lives nearly 24/7.

“Even if their loved ones are in an excellent community like Symphony, caregivers still have the day-in day-out worries of when should I visit; will my loved one still know me, what’s the next stage of the disease,” she observes.

When the Symphony support group meets, Bebe sometimes introduces a topic for the participants to discuss, such as issues regarding loved ones who still drive. Most of the time, however, Bebe asks the people present if they have anything they wish to discuss.

“If someone’s in crisis, we talk about that immediately before we do anything else,” Bebe explains. “In many cases, they just need someone to listen to their concerns and offer possible solutions, which often come from other members of the group. I certainly don’t have all of the answers. I just facilitate the discussion.”

Often, members of the support group have already been through similar situations and know what the person in crisis is going through. They may have thoughts and suggestions on how the person can manage their current crisis.

Making Decisions

Discussion during support group meetings can provide caregivers with a clearer perspective on changes that occur during the various stages of dementia. This information can help family members decide when the time is right to find a memory care community for their loved ones.

“Often, families hold on to their loved ones at home as long as possible,” Nancy relates. “Then, an accident or emergency occurs, and they have to rush to find a place for their loved ones to live. That’s generally not the best way to find a community that’s a good fit. Instead, you want to have a choice.

“Sometimes, people are reluctant to visit a community because they think they’re going to be judged. If their loved one is a hoarder, for example, they don’t want to tell the whole story. Our staff knows how to deal with just about any situation.”

Symphony has an option that allows families to preview the community before they commit. Symphony offers a short-stay program for caregivers who want a brief reprieve to take a break or go on vacation.

“Sometimes, caregivers feel guilty and don’t want to take time out for themselves,” Tara observes. “But it’s important for them to know it’s okay if they need a break to refresh or go away. They can confidently bring their loved ones to Symphony for two weeks. Or, they can stop by anytime and take a tour.”

When looking for a memory care community for their loved ones, family members should consider several factors. Tara stresses that while it’s nice for people to make appointments to visit a community, it’s not necessary. They can drop in at any time.

“When they get there, they should make sure the community has a good variety of stimulating activities,” Tara suggests. “Even though their loved ones may not be engaged in activities at home, they may be totally different people when the

Bebe Kelly, Tara Tosh and Nancy Nichols discuss the dementia support group offered at Symphony at St. Augustine.

“The support group at Symphony is effective because it gives caregivers
a safe, trusting place to land when they’re trying to deal with loved ones
with dementia.” – Bebe Kelly

y’re around new friends.

“There are other factors that are important when choosing a community,” she adds. “These include the quality of the food and cleanliness of the building.”

“The friendliness of the staff is important as well,” Nancy relates. “Also the appearance of the residents. How do they look when they come into the building. Is everyone sitting around with sour faces or are they happy. It has to feel right, like home.”

“When families come to visit us, we go over all of the options with them to make sure Symphony is the right community for their loved ones,” Tara reports. “If not, we refer them to a community that’s a better fit for them.”

Facing Fears

Bebe understands that some people may be hesitant to participate in a support group and discuss their problems and fears. She wants everyone to know she never asks new members to speak.

“I ask them only to listen,” she assures. “Then, before they know it, they’re raising their hands and opening up. They feel free to open up because the group is a very trusting environment.

“Nothing that is ever said in that room leaves that room. And those who’ve been members of the group since it started are very welcoming and supportive of anyone new who joins us.”

The certified dementia practitioner reveals what may be the biggest stumbling block for people caring for loved ones with dementia. And she offers them hope.

“There are cures for heart disease and diabetes, and there are even cures for some cancers,” Bebe states. “But there’s no cure for dementia, and I think that’s what’s so frightening for people.

“The support group at Symphony is effective because it gives caregivers a safe, trusting place to land when they’re trying to deal with loved ones with dementia. The group gives caregivers the support they need to face their fears.”

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