In a small room at the back of Los Angeles Holiness Church, a group of caregivers gather for a meeting. Most of the congregation makes their way out of the church as they go about their Sunday afternoon, but this group stays behind to break bread, fellowship, and talk. They laugh with each other as they recount the happenings of the past month, but finally, Jaime Nakasuji settles the group down to get into the conversation. As a marriage and family therapist (MFT), Jaime has studied marriage and family psychology. She is trained to address a wide array of relationship issues and diagnose and treat mental disorders as they relate to family systems. With a tablet in hand to take notes and her food in front of her, the licensed MFT facilitates the conversation, “So how has everyone been since the last meeting? What’s happened in the last four weeks?”

Caregiver support group participants

As the participants begin to talk, an almost visible burden is lifted from their shoulders. They tell stories about their parents: a parent who took a fall in the last month, another struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, and spouses separated by the walls of a nursing home. These are all caregivers, providing for loved ones, spending time together with an MFT who is trained to help them cope with the challenges of caregiving.

Donna, a participant in the caregiver support group says, “It’s helpful just to see how everyone else is doing and what they are going through so you know you’re not alone. You can empathize with each other, it’s really tough.” This program hosted by LA Holiness Church is a caregiver’s support program, and is one half of a two-pronged effort to address challenges faced by both older adults and the individuals that care for them.

Two women sitting at a table

Many of these individuals caring for their loved ones don’t realize that they can be classified as “caregivers.” Because those who care for others often are caring for their parents, relatives, and loved ones, it is seen as an obligation, not an occupation. However, approximately one in three Japanese Americans in Southern California is a caregiver, and in reality, anyone can be a caregiver. In the capacity that an individual is caring for and helping to improve the quality of life of an older adult in their life, that individual is a caregiver.

Lillian, another participant, summarized her experience in the support group when she said, “The number one thing is knowing you’re not alone. When you’re in the middle of it, caregiving is all you see and it’s hard. When you’re with others who are caregivers, you’re pleasantly surprised to know they understand what you’re going through and you don’t feel as alone anymore. You realize that what you’re experiencing is being felt by others. This program helps you to see yourself in that situation and as a result, you’re better equipped to provide for your loved one. You really want to give your absolute best for them because you know this time is short for them. As a family member, most people are not experienced and you want to be able to love and provide for them as best as possible. My hope is that the program will help me to be better. It’s less about me and more about the loved ones.”

Caregiver support group participants eating lunch together

It is so important to ensure that the caregivers are being properly equipped to continue providing the individual care that their loved ones deserve. The support group hosted by LA Holiness Church and funded through the Keiro Grants Program provides an opportunity for caregivers to express their emotions and challenges in a safe space around others who are experiencing the same difficulties.

Throughout the session, the participants shared stories and advice including how to deal with a father that has Alzheimer’s disease; how to care for a mother with a fractured arm; how to be patient when it becomes too difficult; and how to maintain a marriage when so much of their time has been given to another loved one. These are all very difficult situations to endure, and they are even more challenging to endure alone. This support group allows its participants to bond with each other and create a shared community around the challenges of caregiving. More importantly, it allows them to become better caregivers for their loved ones and enables them to continue providing a high quality of living for the older adults in their lives.