Photo: Robin Harris Images
There is one group at Alzheimer’s San Diego that we hope you’ve never heard of. We don’t promote it. You won’t find it online or in any directory. That’s by very purposeful design.
It provides the same stellar support and knowledge as any of our other 38 support and discussion groups. But the bonds between members, forged over several years of a shared journey, run even deeper.
The Alumni Group was founded in 2013. Its original members had all gone through Take Charge – a 5-week program that empowers those living with dementia and their care partners to take control of a new diagnosis. When the program ended, they weren’t ready to part ways.
“They have been connected to us from the earliest part of their journey – getting the diagnosis,” explains Rebecca McDaniel, LCSW, who leads the group. “When everything was changing and answers were scarce, they found us. Through this group, we can nurture and support long-lasting friendships, and get to know our caregivers in a very personal way.”
While the group initially only included care partners from one session of Take Charge, it has supported dozens of caregivers since then. The only requirements are to have gone through Take Charge, and to have “graduated” from the early stage support group.
For Dave Zietlow, the Alumni Group has been a lifeline. As a newer member, he says he felt accepted by the group since day one. He’s learned what to expect as his wife, Donna, starts showing more symptoms of dementia.
“As my goal is to try and stay one step ahead of this disease, I knew this is where we needed to be,” Dave says. “The other members are already at or beyond where we were going, so I was drawn to their experiences so I could plan and prepare for the future.”
“Life changes as part of this group. It’s been less frustrating for me as a caregiver, and I’ve become more accepting of my role,” she shares. “I feel comfortable and safe in saying anything.”
Mike Wellman says the camaraderie and empathy from other care partners means more to him than any lessons he could learn from a book or expert.
“The familiar faces and continued steps taken on the journey is a huge plus. We all know each other’s histories,” he explains. “It is a very hard and long road, and you need all the help you can get.”
Rebecca, the group leader, says she’s seen some incredible friendships deepen and grow over the years. Many of the 17 original members of the Alumni Group have remained in contact – long after their loved one with dementia has passed away. Some have even gone on trips together!
“Because it is a closed group, bonds deepen and friendships exist much longer than any disease ever will,” Rebecca says.
Those relationships are what mean the most to Anne Kellet.
“After joining this group, I did not feel alone with this disease any longer,” she says. “This group is the only place in my life where everyone there understands me and what I am going through with my loved one. Now I feel like I have lifetime friends – we’ve bonded over caring for our loved ones, and each other.”
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