Graceful Health: With support, things can get better

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I read a report recently which stated that social isolation can be as unhealthy for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Hard to believe? I know it's true because I have seen with my own eyes how peoples' health and attitudes improve when they attend a support group for a physical or emotional challenge.

I have one client who is the caretaker for her husband, who has Alzheimer's. She was struggling and found it hard to take care of herself. I helped her arrange for some adult daycare at the Gathering Place so she could attend the Grace Cottage Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Group (it meets monthly on the first Thursday). It was her first opportunity to be with people who could truly understand her situation, and she got both support and information. After that meeting, she declared that she "felt so much better" and she committed to attending each month.

This experience is confirmed by scientists who've researched the benefits of support groups.

One research study found that arthritis sufferers who attended a support group had a 20 percent reduction in pain. Another showed that patients diagnosed with metastatic cancer or a malignant tumor survived twice as long if they attended a support group. And groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon and bereavement support groups have a long history of success.

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Within our community, a wide variety of support groups are available for all kinds of life challenges. While many of these meet in Brattleboro, those who live in the rural parts of Windham County also have access to groups that meet closer to home. Many of these, including the groups that meet at Grace Cottage, are offered free of charge to anyone who needs them.

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For example, Grace Cottage has a monthly National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) support group for anyone facing the difficulties that come with having a family member who is mentally ill. This group meets on the second Wednesday of each month.

There's also a Living Alone support group on the third Wednesday of the month, led by the Townshend-based Support and Services at Home (SASH) coordinator.

"The camaraderie is what people love the most. People like to get together and talk, to share ideas," says Grace Cottage Diabetes Educator Deborah Brown, who also leads a Women's Healthy Aging group at Grace Cottage. "We don't have the same friendship networks that we used to have, and as adults, it's easy to be lonely. Social isolation is really detrimental to your health."

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Bill Monahan, Grace Cottage outreach coordinator, leads similar healthy aging groups for men in both Townshend and Grafton, and he has seen the positive effects of men getting together. Not only have they benefitted from increased socialization, the groups have led to some healthier behaviors. One participant was so impressed by Monahan's short presentation on hidden sugar in foods that he started carefully reading all of the food labels for items in his home and at the store, leading to healthier eating and reduced weight.

Support groups give you a safe and confidential place to talk about things that might be embarrassing or confusing. You can ask questions and hear how others are coping. By talking and by listening to others, participants find they can better understand their own situations, and they gain hope that helps them move forward. There's a collective wisdom shared in these groups that can help participants feel connected and understood.

For information about the schedule for Grace Cottage's support groups, you can visit this page on the Grace Cottage website: Some of the upcoming groups are still being scheduled, so check back or call us at 802-365-3629 if you're looking for a class that isn't posted on the website yet or if you have questions. We're happy to help!

Claire Bemis, RN, is care coordinator with the Grace Cottage Family Health Community Health Team. She helps to coordinate various healthcare services for patients with chronic and complex needs. Bemis earned her BSN degree from Norwich University in 1991.


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