Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Group Therapy: Proof of the Laughing Cure

Every other week I have the pleasure of leading a support group for adult offspring caring for a parent(s) with Alzheimer's (AD) or Dementia. If you've never been to a support group, I highly recommend attending because they can actually be helpful and surprisingly fun. Our (as in my co-therapist Emma and my) group, is hilarious. We go from discussing how watching a parent become almost completely on their adult child, essentially switching their child-parent roles, can be the hardest part of it all to finding the best fried chicken in L.A. How'd we get there? Well, one of the members discussed how her mother enjoyed getting up early and taking the bus to the 99 cents store. This wasn't the wandering-type of behavior that is characteristic of some dementias, especially AD. It was purposeful and she always returned.

One day, however, a woman was at her door with our group member's mother and said that she found her on by Slausson and Crenshaw, streets in a pretty rough area of L.A. At hearing this, the group started chiming in with oooos, ooohs, dangs, and shoots. One particularly charismatic fellow, the one male in the group who Emma and I know all the ladies have a major crush on, says, "Isn't that there that fry-chi place is?" "Mmmmhmm. That's it alright," chiming in another member. "Child, that might be the nastiest place downtown but, girl, that is some damn fine chicken!" Now, we're all cracking up. "Maybe mom was hungry!" Emma, who's a little more professional than I am in these settings smiles while I am cracking up with the rest of them. "I'm getting hungry now. Who wants to go wander?" I throw in. We all laugh. Ahhh, therapy is fun.

Aside from entertaining each other, this group truly cares for the wellbeing of its members. When a new member joins us, everyone starts asking him/her, usually her, questions about things they've struggled with, like getting their parent to eat (appetite can disappear with AD), dealing with temper tantrums (of their parent and those they want to throw but can't), and what to do when their parent wakes us and suddenly realizes they don't know where they are or what's going on. That's when we talk about the most pressing issue: guns. Every member of our group has had to either hide or take away a gun, sometimes guns, that their parent had for protection. In the wise words of Albert (what I'll call our sole dude of the bunch), "You have got to get that gun outta the house. One day, for protection, that gun will be pointed at you and your momma won't know who the hell you are. You can't be havin' that. Oh no." He's right. AD patients often forget who people are, even their own children. Imagine waking up in a strange place and someone comes into your room. If I knew I had a gun, I might just grad it, too. AD can be extremely frightening. The first question we ask each new member is if they know of any firearms in their parent's home. It never occurred to me that this would be such a popular issue that we'd need to raise it almost every meeting. It's likely a combination of a generation thing and a location/safety thing that these older folk are packing heat. It's sad, really. Pretty soon after the grim warnings, the group finds some humor in the topic, as usual. We were helping one member come up with a plan, or little white lie, to get her father's rifle. She said that if she came back to the next meeting with both eyes, we'd know she got the gun, safely.

P.S: This picture was taken of a group therapy session led by Carl Rogers, the famous humanist psychologist, in 1966. Cool, huh? PhDini=dork.

No comments: