Once you have developed the framework for your group, there are other logistics to consider. These can include when and where to meet, how often the meetings will occur, how to facilitate group members getting to know each other, whether food should be served, and whether name tags would be helpful.
Through Without Warning, we have found that with more advance planning by the facilitators, the more participants feel comfortable and are able to engage in the discussion. Considering and then acting upon each of these logistical decisions will improve the experience for the group members.
Following are practical items to consider:
Picking a location for your group should be done with care. The location should be easy to locate, have ample parking, good lighting for night-time meetings, and easily navigated once within the building. Signage and directions are always helpful. Possible locations to consider include meeting rooms available at local churches, community centers, and libraries.
If you are having multiple groups meeting at the same time, such as a group for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, the meeting rooms should be close together.
If the meeting is in a space at your place of employment, consider how to make the room as comfortable as possible. Also, having a space that limits background noise and distraction is important.
This is especially important if you are hosting a support group for people with dementia. You will need to consider if you have an environment that is supportive for them. Can they easily find the bathroom or will someone need to walk with them? How do they rejoin their caregivers.
Use of Volunteers
Throughout the years of Without Warning we have used volunteers and could not function without them. We have volunteers in each of our groups for people with Alzheimer's.
Depending on your budget, serving coffee, water, or a light snack provides a welcoming environment. Food options, if offered, should be simple and not overwhelming.
In Without Warning, we have structured a 30 minutes social time before we break into the different groups. This time allows for people to socialize. Groups members have said they enjoy being able to visit with others who understand and our comfortable with each other. We have also found that having the 30 minutes before the meetings gives time for people with dementia to ease into the space and be a bit more comfortable before we moving into the group sessions. When there are both people with dementia and their family members together during this social time, we work to make sure the conversation is supportive of both.
Typically, support group meetings are held once or twice a month. The frequency can be adjusted up or down, once the group gets started and the facilitator has had an opportunity to assess the group and its concerns.
Whatever the ultimate frequency is, dates and times should be simple and routine. For example, every third Thursday of the month at 7:00 PM. Once this is determined, print out and distribute the meeting dates for the coming year.
Duration can be influenced by who is attending your group. In Without Warning, we have found that groups for people with dementia average around 60 minutes and as a result so do the family member groups. When we have groups solely for family members they often are longer, averaging from 90 minutes to two hours. Always allow sufficient time at the end (5 to 10 minutes) for final thoughts, concerns, and questions, or to circle back with any participants who may have struggled or shown signs of stress earlier in the discussion.
We have found name tags to be helpful. They help everyone get oriented, particularly at the onset of a new group or if, as in the case for Without Warning, the group is large. Over time, Without Warning began to use name tags that clipped on and could be reused. We found this to be helpful for a couple reasons. People with Alzheimer’s seemed to have trouble with writing their name onto tags that stick to clothing and they had trouble distinguishing the name tag from the paper around or behind it. The name tags that stuck to clothing often fell off during the group and people’s handwriting could be difficult to read. The clip-on tags can be costly but we found it to be worth the expense. As the facilitator, you will need to make sure the names are printed and replaced when needed.