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In Support of …
"She's going downhill," says Art, an elderly man, of his wife, who suffers from dementia. "She's incontinent now."
The others in Room 162 in the Willowood Building of the Abington Memorial Health Center in Willow Grove nod sympathetically.
"But she's eating," he continues. "She's been eating so much, she's gaining weight. The other day I had to go to the … what'd you call it? … ladies underwear?"
"Lingerie," someone volunteers.
"Yes, the lingerie department to buy her larger underwear. And they just looked at me. They must have thought I'm a cross-dresser."
Laughter all around.
The half-dozen men and women in the room are attending the Caregiver's Support Group, one of 45 groups on numerous topics offered by Abington Memorial Hospital.
Support groups of one kind or another are offered by numerous area hospitals, including Chestnut Hill, Einstein and the University of Pennsylvania. At Abington, some are led by professionals, such as social worker Sarah Maus.
Others, she explains, are conducted by people whose own experiences motivated them to organize groups for those in similar situations. This, however, does not necessarily hold true for all hospitals. Einstein's Web site indicates all groups are conducted by therapists, nurses and other professionals.
The range of topics is wide, from a group for amputees at Einstein to dealing with grief after the suicide of a loved one at Abington.
"Support groups have existed for decades," says Maus. "But the caregiver groups have come about more recently, as people live longer and have more chronic illnesses."
The caregiver's group at Abington, operated by the hospital's Mutter Center for Senior Health, meets at 1 p.m. on the last Monday of each month. Other groups meet evenings for those who cannot get away by day. The day meetings she conducts alternate between general discussions and guest speakers.
"My dad - he's 73 - yells a lot," says Angela. "Ever since my mother died of cancer, he says, 'Why her? Why not somebody in jail?' " And so Angela, who lives at home, looks after her father. "I take care of him," she tells the others.
"Now he yells because he's worried. He's going to have eye surgery next month," Angela says. "Cataract."
"Tell him it's nothing to worry about," Art says.
Angela smiles. "Oh, I'll tell him."
Helen, a widow for 33 years, has been taking care of her 90-year-old mother, who is suffering from dementia. "Why her?" Helen asks. "She was such a religious woman."
Her eyes fill with tears. "Caring is a test of your love," she says.
Maus tries to console her. "That's why we are here. To help people deal with problems."
Helen turns to Maus. "Do you remember that woman who used to come here and complain about her husband? The one that always argued with him when he said he wanted a tissue, when he meant a napkin?"
"So one day," Helen recalls with a smile, "one day I said to her, 'Don't sweat the small stuff.' "
Art volunteers that he also attends another group. He takes his wife to the second one. "They have a place there for the patients. They sit and watch TV or doze off." He puts his face in his hands and begins to cry.
"They all have their problems," he whispers.
After more than an hour, they rise and take leave of each other. "They may come back to the next meeting or they may stay away," admits Maus. "It all depends on what happens at home."