Why Crozet: Caregivers Find Support from Each Other

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Eleanor Kroeger, here with her husband, Kurt, started a caregiver’s support group that had its first meeting in September. Submitted photo.

The Gazette began “Why Crozet” as a standing feature almost three years ago to draw attention to the many good things in our community. We’ve found many examples of people who identify a need and, finding no other way to fill it, step forward themselves to provide help. There are many groups in Crozet formed for mutual support or because of mutual interests. The caregiver’s support group that formed last month is a good example.

When Eleanor Kroeger invited people to the first Crozet caregiver’s group meeting in September, she wasn’t sure how many people would come. “I knew it could happen that no one would show up,” she said. “Or there could be one person, or 20 people. There was just no way of knowing.” 

As it turned out, the group—which meets on second Wednesdays at Tabor Presbyterian Church—was well attended, and members expressed interest in continuing. People were relieved at finding others experiencing the same physical and emotional demands.

“Often, people are solicitous about the patient and forget to ask caregivers how they’re doing,” she said. “This group is a chance for the caregivers to find sympathy and support.”

It would be hard to find someone with more experience than Kroeger. She’s been a nurse since 1963, providing home care in several different states. She became certified in oncology and worked with hospice patients and their families, including the recently bereaved. With all that in her background, she found it was still a challenge when her husband, an athletic and active man, became seriously ill. “It was tragic to see someone who had been so healthy get so sick,” she said. “There were good days and bad days, and I felt like I was on a roller coaster.”

One day not long ago, Kroeger looked in a mirror and realized, “I look awful.” She realized she would have to take better care of herself. “Even something as simple as a haircut seemed to be a challenge, but it made me feel so much better,” she said. “I needed a little time for myself. I thought, ‘if I don’t take it, whose fault is that?’”

Kroeger realized that if someone with her credentials needed support, then others would, too. “I also needed something to motivate me to move ahead,” she said. Once she proposed the monthly group, she could look forward to regular conversations about topics meaningful to caregivers. 

Like many people in her situation, she was reluctant to ask for help, and she has a tip for those wanting to assist a caregiver. “If you tell a caregiver to call if they need anything, in most cases they just won’t,” she said. “I have neighbors who show up regularly to do yard work. They said not to worry about it anymore, they’d just take care of it when it needed to be done.”

Those far away from the family caregiver can also pitch in, she said. “If you can’t provide any relief from daily caregiving tasks, but you want to show you care, perhaps you could contribute financially to some help. Every little bit is appreciated.”

Kroeger has designed meetings around specific topics, with plenty of time for informal talk as well. The October meeting (Oct. 12) will be “Recognizing a Need”; November’s topic is “Planning for the Holidays”; (Nov. 9) and the meeting December 14 will be “Focus on Where You are Now.” All meetings are at Tabor Presbyterian Church at 2 p.m.

A support group specifically for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s Disease meets monthly at the Crozet Library. Submitted photo.

There’s another caregiver’s group in Crozet for those taking care of people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Tanya Brockett, a former caregiver and long-time member of the group, guides the group in discussions on the third Saturday of every month at the Crozet Library. They meet at 10 a.m. Like Kroeger, Brockett has an extensive background, mostly from her lengthy experience taking care of a mother-in-law with the disease. 

Brockett, a ghost writer and copy editor, also has many years of experience writing and editing “how-to” and self-help books. She was so affected by her years of caregiving that she remained in the group long after her mother-in-law died. “I was struck by the dilemma of caring for someone who wouldn’t ever get better,” she said. “When we’re caring for someone recovering, or for young children, we know there will be progress. Sadly, people with Alzheimer’s Disease will only get worse.” 

Brockett said she’s supposed to be working on a book for non-fiction writers, but she keeps putting that off to focus on a book for caregivers. “It’s like when I try to work on the book that’s due, the caregiving book keeps saying, ‘Look at me!’” She refers affectionately to the book by its temporary working subtitle: “How do you get through the day when you’re pulling your hair out?”

Group members who are further down the path have a wealth of ideas for addressing practical challenges, Brockett said. “We discuss concrete things like what to do when my loved one asks the same question over and over; or how to make dinner time a little less crazy; or what to look for when it becomes time for long-term care.”

Brockett welcomes newcomers to the group. Just show up, or email her at [email protected] so you’ll know if there are any changes.

The Jefferson Area Board on Aging has resources for caregivers at every stage of their journey, including a “caregiver’s toolkit.” The toolkit has a checklist to help caregivers figure out how they’re doing. Some of the questions they suggest caregivers ask themselves:

Do I:

  • Feel like I have to do it all myself and should be doing more?
  • Feel guilty for not being able to meet all of my obligations?
  • Worry about the safety of the loved one I am caring for?
  • Feel like I have given up things I enjoy?
  • Put off taking care of myself, including my own health?
  • Am concerned about making a critical mistake in care decisions?
  • Worry that I am not able to provide the care my loved one needs?

Find community programs and helpful resources at jabacares.org. 

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