After many phone conversations, Louise Ferrell (not her real name) got another call from her daughter: “You have to get help, Mom, and I’m not going to stop calling until you do something.”

Louise is a fulltime caregiver for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s.

The very next day, a small ad in the Bluffton Sun caught Louise’s attention. It was an ad about free support groups at Memory Matters. Believing this was not just a coincidence, Louise told herself, “I can do this!” 

Louise remembers the first time she walked into the support group room five years ago – afraid, nervous, but determined. When it was her turn to share her name with the group, she broke down. Crying during the rest of the meeting, she sensed she was in a safe place filled with non-judgmental, supportive people.

The encouragement and camaraderie she had been needing were there in that room.

Even during the pandemic, the support groups have found a way to continue meeting. After trying various virtual meeting platforms, licensed counselor Ashley Gruber tested Zoom with the group and discovered a way to stay connected.

“The caregivers were home suffering for help,” Louise said, “and we were so relieved to find a way to see the familiar faces of our group and reconnect.” 

Louise said if she had to pick virtual or in-person meetings, she would choose in-person but, until meeting live is safe, she is thankful to Memory Matters for the Zoom meetings. She hopes they continue long-term, making it accessible for others who aren’t able to travel to the Memory Care Center and otherwise wouldn’t be able to join.

Maintaining a routine, socializing with friends and family, and going to support group meetings have helped Louise make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, even though her husband has declined during this time. Knowing she is not alone has made a difference, and she’ll always be grateful for her daughter’s persistence.

Louise has a message for other caregivers: “Bluffton and Hilton Head are so fortunate to have a resource like Memory Matters to help caregivers. The tools are phenomenal, unbelievable, and not found in other areas. Walking into the room full of strangers was hard five years ago, but it was the best thing for me.” 

The good news is the friendly faces are still there today, even though they are stamp-size frames on a computer screen. “It’s a way to stay connected and without the virtual meetings, we would have to navigate the online world on our own, meaning added stress,” Louise said. “Now everyone is comfortable meeting and we have returned to the engaging cadence we had before COVID, much like family.”

For more information about caregiver support groups, visit mymemorymatters.org.

Debbie Anderson is the community education director of Memory Matters. debbie@mymemorymatters.org