An estimated 16 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers for a friend or loved one with dementia, and no one understands how isolating that role can be better than Courtney Whitaker, director of Memory Care and Life Enrichment Programs at Sam Swope Care Center and Crescent Grove Memory and Personal Care. In addition to spending her career studying those with memory loss and interacting with their loved ones, she also currently serves as caregiver for her grandmother, who suffers from dementia.
“It’s an incredibly difficult role to fill,” Courtney said. “Having a strong support group is crucial.”
That’s what led Courtney to create a Dementia Caregiver Support Group that is open to all caregivers in the community—even those whose loved ones are not currently living at Masonic. During the group’s monthly sessions, Courtney delivers a brief presentation, then facilitates a roundtable discussion during which participants share struggles and victories. Courtney says sometimes she offers interventions for certain behaviors or serves as a listening ear.
“I want to give them hope,” she said. “They feel broken down and exhausted and hopeless. I just want them to know that there are resources out there to support them.”
Group attendee Dan Herrinton has been caring for his wife, Charlene, since she was diagnosed with dementia 20 years ago at the age of 59. Still, he didn’t attend a support group until moving to Masonic with Charlene in 2013. He said the group—and Courtney’s expertise—has been important, particularly since Charlene’s condition took a sharp decline in September 2018.
“I didn’t know what to expect as her disease progressed,” he said. “And I still don’t know.”
Dan said it’s nice to hear others’ experiences with dementia and memory loss, and often finds himself a valuable resource for group participants.
“For most people in the group, the diagnosis is new, and this is a whole new world to them,” Dan said.
Courtney said that while each caregiver’s story is unique, many of them share similar experiences, hopes and fears.
“It’s so important for families to know they aren’t alone,” Courtney said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. Even if they can’t physically help you or change your situation, it’s nice to know there’s someone who understands.”
More information about our collaboration with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of Louisville coming soon.