Watching people support each other through the journey of dementia can be immensely rewarding. To achieve this though, the group leader needs to watch for and respond to group dynamics. As a facilitator, you are not only attending to group members as individuals but also to the conversational reactions of how each individual's behavior (i.e., subject of the conversation and emotional state) affects everyone else within the group. What the facilitator states and how she or he reacts has an impact on the direction of the conversation and what happens within the room. Some behaviors of participants within the support group can take away from the atmosphere. Here are some of the common group dynamics that need monitoring and some suggestions on how to approach each as they may occur:
At the first meeting, it is ideal to establish guidelines and expectations in hopes of minimizing distracting behaviors. However, these guidelines can be sometimes forgotten when a group has been running for a long period of time. When side conversations occur, ask those who are involved to share their discussion with the group as the information they might be sharing can be useful to others. If the same group of individuals is constantly in side conversations during the group's meeting hour, it is a good idea to have a private conversation with them at the conclusion of the group session and remind them of the guidelines and expectations of the group in a respectful manner. Within the group setting, you can also address this issue by directly targeting the group of distracters and ask some form of the following question/statement:
"I am sensing that we are losing people's attention with this topic, can we agree to focus on the main discussion? We can address other topics at the conclusion of the topic at hand."
Person who Dominates the Conversation
Having one individual speaking most of the time during the group keeps others quiet, and as a facilitator, it is ideal to create a space where everyone is included in the topic. In this situation, a facilitator can ask a particular person in the group who seems to be more withdrawn how they feel about the topic that is being discussed. Another way to handle this is by using a check-in system, or red robin, where everyone goes around sharing their input on the topic. One helpful statement could be:
"Thank you for sharing Frank. Let's hear from others now."
Individuals who are withdrawn may be overwhelmed by hearing others' experiences or simply taking in information. Checking-in with the individual may be the best approach by asking them if everything is okay. If the individual remains withdrawn from the conversation, a private conversation outside of group as a way of checking-in with them can allow them to open up about anything they may be facing and may not want to share with the entire group.
Person who Tries to Out-do Someone's Experience
Reminding the group that everyone has different experiences and no individual's story is more or less valuable than any other can raise awareness to the group of this occurrence.
Person who Tells People What to Do
In this situation, reminding the group that everyone's journey is different could be effective. Although there are some similarities in the stages of Alzheimer's disease, everyone experiences them differently. There is not one right way to solve any concern or issue.
As a facilitator, creating an atmosphere with minimal distractions will add to the support group experience and will build an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable and able to share.