By Sandra Stimson ADC, CALA, CDP Executive Director,
Alternative Solutions in Long Term Care

Sandra Stimson has experience as a
corporate consultant, Corporate Trainer
and National Speaker. Her experience is
in long term care, as Activity Director,
Director of Alzheimer's Units and
Assistant Administrator of a 550 bed long
term care county home.  She is
Co-founder of Pet Express Pet Therapy
Club, is a Life Replay Specialist.  
Sandra implements dementia units
nationwide.  Sandra has written several
books, Volunteer Management
Essentials for Long Term Care and Pet
Express Pet Therapy Program. Sandra
has been a facilitator for Alzheimer's
support groups and is the Awards Chair
for the NJ Association of Activity
Professionals.  Sandra is the Executive
Director of
National Council of Certified
Dementia Practitioners  

Alternative Solutions in Long Term
Care offers resources for health care
professionals in many areas of dementia
care, care plans, Snoezelen products,
dementia activity calendars, adult day
care calendars, sensory calendars,
reminisce videos for dementia, activity
books, and dates to remember, party
resources and links.
Sandra Stimson
Each Norman Rockwell print is
paired with a national standards of
Resident Rights and is
illustrated by a picture depicting
the "Resident Right."

click here to purchase resident
rights prints
Activity Director Today
for Activity Professionals
in Long Term Care Settings

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The Activity Director's Office
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This site is moderated by
Robert & Linda Lucas, Owners of
The Activity Director website.
Support Groups are a necessity.
There is a place in the Activity Calendar.
Sandra Stimson CALA, ADC, CDP

There are several kinds of support groups that are held in long term care facilities. One that benefits the
caregivers who provide care in the home, another is to support the residents living in healthcare facilities
and finally the support group for families with loved ones residing in a health care facility.  A variety of
support groups should be offered. A social worker was overheard stating, “we don’t offer support groups
because my residents and families don’t need it!)   Support groups offer support, provide education and
comma dare.

Support groups should be offered to residents, families and community on a monthly basis. It is strongly
recommended that families and residents not attend the community support groups. One big reason is
that families have different issues and concerns vs community care givers.  Family caregivers have
ongoing issues related to the facility care, clothing, medications and discharge.  Families of loved ones
providing care in their home have a whole range of different issues. You don’t want issues that families
have, aired in a community support group and that information taken back to the community.   

Residents should have their own support group. For example, it is imperative to have discussions and
information about dementia. They have many issues to contend with such as wanderers coming into their
space, dealing with disruptive behaviors and communication issues. They need the same kind of
education as the families and the community. Because most long term care settings now have 60 to 80
percent dementia, it is imperative that the residents have support groups. Another topic could be
developing self esteem in the elderly or adjusting with nursing home placement.    

Depending on the needs of the group, the support group may meet monthly or more often as needed.  The
group sessions should be about 1 hour. If you are providing food, you may want the meeting to run a little

The facilitator should plan for a speaker several times a year to address specific questions, issues and
concerns. A speaker can be someone with an agency, association, hospital speaker’s bureau, department
head and of course the social worker.

You don’t want your support group to turn toxic which can happen for many reasons. One common reason
is a participant who does all the talking.  It is best to address this head on and utilize a timer.  They can
speak when they have the timer as it’s important to hear from everyone. Make sure to explain the rules of
the timer or hour glass. If someone is running on too long, simply say, “Thank you for your input but we
need to move on and hear from everyone.  Allow time for the members to respond to their questions or
concerns.  Remember, you don’t have to have the answers to everything. Let the group provide input as
they many ideas and suggestions.

Be sure to advertise the date and location of the resident support group on the monthly calendar, facility
newsletter and on the bulletin boards.

A nice touch is to provide a journal to the residents who attend the support group meeting as they may wish
to take notes or write down their thoughts. Always thank the residents for coming as it takes a lot to bare
your soul.    

Support groups should be planned and advertised at times convenient to the group you are hoping to
serve.  For example, elderly care givers would prefer a midweek early afternoon as many don’t want to drive
at night.  A light lunch should be offered.  Younger care givers might want an evening support group due to
commitments of family and work.  A light dinner should also be offered.  For your community support
groups you should advertise in the local paper, local tv stations, office on aging and with the Alzheimer’s
association.  There are many care giver wed sites you may wish to also post your monthly meetings. Try to
always keep the meeting dates the same, for example, the 3rd Thursday of the month.  

The facility should offer support groups for families of loved ones living on the dementia units.  These can
be held monthly or quarterly.  Let your families vote on how often they wish to meet.  You should plan the
dates of the meetings and the topics to be discussed a year in advance. It is recommend that by the 1st
week in January you have posted the dates of the meeting.  Families should not bring their loved ones to
the meeting as this can impede the flow of the discussion.  Always provide a fact sheet on the topic to be
discussed.  Allow time for the speaker and time for the families to speak and ask questions.

There are an endless list of topics that can be discussed at the community support groups and your
resident and family support group.  The Alzheimer’s Association has free fact sheets. These
should be downloaded and kept in your library. Always provide a fact sheet of the topic you will be
discussing to each participant.  Each time you meet, discuss one of the fact sheets.  Be sure to have a sign
in sheet and write down the topic on the sign in sheet so you will remember what you discussed.   

Do not give out names, phone numbers or addresses of the members of your support group. If they want to
provide that information to another member of the group, they will.  

For wonderful ideas and suggestions on how to run your support group please visit,
The New Jersey Self Help Group Clearing House or American Self Help Group Clearing House
// or

The New Jersey web site has fantastic resources, such as;  How To start a self help group, structuring a
meeting, finding a guest speaker, ground rules, possible discussion questions, how to keep the meeting
upbeat, providing mutual support, group evaluations, getting the members involved, over coming group
and member issues, facilitating the group, etc.  If you have never run a group this is the best web site to go
for lots of information. You should purchase a 3 ring binder and download the information and place in a
notebook.  In this notebook, you should place one of every fact sheet listed on the Alzheimer’s Association
so you have a clean master.  As you find articles and other resources, add those to your notebook.  

Another resource is the Closed Captioned Media.  They have a free catalogue and free in-service videos.
They will mail the videos to you at no charge. Their web site is

You should have at least two support group facilitators so one can fill in should you not be able to attend
the group.  Be sure to keep an updated list of members names, addresses, phone numbers, cell numbers
and email addresses.  Always obtain an emergency contact number in the event of an emergency. You
never know when a member may fall ill.

Anyone can be a volunteer support group facilitator as it requires, commitment, patience, good listening
skills, organization and compassion. If you are presenting a topic that requires specific knowledge be sure
to read about the topic before the meeting. If you want to start a support group and don’t want to run it by
yourself, reach out to the Social worker, nurse or facility clergy to assist you with the group.  Remember, you
are only the facilitator and it’s your job as the facilitator to insure that the group runs smoothly.    You will
find the benefits to the participants are many but what you receive in return for being a volunteer facilitator is