Mark Harvey — Support for those who have “walked the walk”

I know a lot about Alzheimer’s and dementia because I’m very smart — just ask me, and I’ll be glad to tell you how smart I am.

There are a lot of people who know a lot about Alzheimer’s and dementia — just ask them.

We read a lot of articles and studies and research, then we talk to each other, which is one way we convince ourselves of how smart we are, but the people who have taught me the MOST about this subject — the SMARTEST people I know! — are the folks who have “walked the walk.”

The folks who do the hardest and loneliest work there is: Folks who take care of folks with Alzheimer’s, or any form of dementia. Caregivers. People who are taking care of people who need to be taken care, whether they like it or not.

Desperation truly is the mother of invention, so when I’ve been allowed to sit-in on support groups for folks who do this 24/7, 365, I’ve learned more than I ever got from the last eleven scholarly documents.

It’s lonely, hard, painful work — and folks need a place to share that, so it isn’t so lonely, so … isolating. It can also be fun, funny and rewarding — and folks need a place to share that. They also need a place to get ideas, share ideas and talk about what worked, what didn’t work or what might work if they did it “this way.”

Because people with Alzheimer’s disease — with any form of dementia — aren’t going to get well. They don’t go into remission. There is no magic medication, so if you’re the caregiver, you’re in this for the long-haul.

And you know it.

Some people don’t care for the term “support groups” (particularly males, but I apologize for my stereotyping), because they think it suggests “weakness,” or emotional fragility or the inability to pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps and soldier on! Well, OK, then call them something else, but if you want to see some of the toughest suckers on the planet, go to one of these!

If there is one — and there’s the problem: Way too often, there isn’t, so here’s what I want from you: I want you to invent one.

Don’t panic — it isn’t pretty.

Here’s the deal: The Alzheimer’s Association Western and Central Washington Chapter (yeah, it’s a mouthful) got a grant to do Alzheimer’s (or any form of dementia) family caregiver support group outreach in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties, and to invent and facilitate support groups, so they need to find folks who can do it.

Maybe you’re a counselor or a nurse or a social worker, or clergy or teacher or or or … OR, maybe you’ve walked that walk — learned the hard way — OJT. You don’t have to be a “pro” — you already are.

The Chapter will provide extensive training and ongoing support, so you wouldn’t be dangling in the wind by yourself. They’d be asking you to commit to four to six hours per month, with a once-per-month support group facilitation of around 3 of those hours. If you want it or need it, compensation and mileage could be provided.

The MAIN thing you’d get is some incredible training — on the front-end and ongoing — and the opportunity to help change lives. To help sustain lives. To help.

Real people doing the real work need a place to go to be “real.” That’s what this is, so you don’t have to have three degrees and 12 letters after your name. You do need to care.

And learn. And think. And try. And be who you are.

Please don’t make this harder than it is, and don’t think about it too long or too much. Just call Meredith Barrett at (206) 529-3886 and talk it over. If you don’t like what you hear, OK — no harm, no foul.

But if you think that, maybe, courage is not the absence of fear, then jump in. Facilitating a support group is mostly about creating a safe and welcoming place, and a lot of us know a lot more about that than we think we do.

Do this. Call Meredith. Pay it back or pay it forward, but do it.

The toughest suckers on the planet need you.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.


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