Book Groups: ℞ for Good Health

book groupIn this podcast you’ll hear about my book group, now in its fifth year, and how it helps me with social support and brain health. There are also two guests.

You might want to scroll down this page and read the blog entry, For the Love of Reading.

One graphic novel mentioned in this episode is Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? This is an amazing book and recommended reading for anyone taking care of their aging parents.

As I mention in the podcast, if you’d like to join our Goodreads book group please request to join – Glass Half Full.

If you’d like to learn more about starting your own book reading group here are some tips from the American Library Association and a group in Ireland which seems to offer book groups for people with cancer.


Making connections through support groups

When I was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy I don’t remember hesitating before making my way to a support group meeting. I didn’t have preconceptions; all I wanted to do was meet others with the condition. The meetings I went to were for anyone with a neuromuscular disease, not just myotonic dystrophy. We met at a hotel in a conference room with long tables covered with starched-white linens. The facilitator dominated the conversation and I’m not sure if I even had a chance to introduce myself.

Ironically this facilitator had been leading the group for 12 or so years and was burnt out. Shortly after my arrival she left the group and I was asked to facilitate. I had no previous training. I worked as a multimedia producer and all I really had to fall back on were a few years of teaching experience. But I did it. There was no handbook, no training, and no encouraging words before I was thrown into the pool of humanity dealing with at the very least a chronic health condition and other times excruciating life-or-death challenges.

Through trial and error I learned how to guide a group of people from various social strata and cultural backgrounds to become a community engaged in learning and sharing. My hardest struggle has been dealing with difficult people. You know who they are – the person who is wed to a negative point of view, or maybe it’s the person that seems to feel they know it all, or the person that just can’t stop talking and dominates the conversation.

But somehow I learned strategies to really facilitate a meeting so there are fewer and fewer roadblocks. I try to keep the flow of the meeting moving toward a positive goal. Certainly there are times when a person may have a special need, but pulling from my ever-growing bag of tools and resources I can take someone offline and re-focus toward the group. Generally we have a topic or guest speaker. My aim is to increase our education by learning from each other as well as guest presenters.

We’ve practiced yoga, tai chi, and even meditation together. Health care professionals have talked with us about occupational, physical, and respiratory therapy. Community organizations have explained how to access service dogs, free telephones, in-home health services, and paratransit vehicles. Other support group participants have shared how they work with a personal trainer, traveled domestically and internationally using a wheelchair, and created makeshift tools to help them do everyday tasks in and around their home. Together we took sailing and kayak adventures through adapted sports programs. Together we memorialized a long-time member by celebrating his life.

That’s what support groups are about. You meet people you might never have met – humbled in their life path by a force nearly greater than them – and together you learn how to navigate the new path together.

It’s hard to imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t been asked to take on this role as a support group facilitator. Perhaps it was initially intended to be a service to others, but I’ve ended up really helping myself.


For the Love of Reading

As a child I used to read a lot. In elementary school, they’d give awards to kids who read the most books each year, and I was often one of the winners. But by high school, it became much harder to read what I really enjoyed. That’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate Othello, The Jungle, or Babbit, but they weren’t my first choice.

College was filled with required readings, as well. And then came my entry into the working world. Often my leisure time was spent reading to get ahead in my career. I loved school so I often took classes and read the books associated with the syllabus. Learning was integral to who I was, who I continue to be. But I rarely allowed myself the luxury of reading something just for the fun of it.

In the last several years, as I’ve weaned myself away from my career and found some of my other leisure activities difficult to do – creating art, attending events with crowds, or socializing in restaurants – I’ve decided to read more. It makes me feel like a kid again, back when I had oodles of time to read and not worry as much about the time spent. And my reading interests tend to be more varied now than when I was younger.

However, I have discovered obstacles to reading. A lot of print books are too darn heavy and difficult to maneuver. Until I purchased my first Kindle, I avoided reading. Not only were my eyes fatigued, but just holding a book and turning the pages proved to be exhausting. But the Kindle – and I suspect other electronic readers – are a boon for people with weak arms and hands.

If I am in a weakened state I now have the option of listening to an audio book either on my iPod or my computer. I get excited about reading. I like to have a few books in different modes going at once. I’m especially fond of Goodreads.com, where I maintain a list of books I’ve read, am currently reading, and want to read. Plus, it’s a social network, so you can connect with friends and see what they’re reading, as well.

While reading tends to be more of a solitary experience, there can be a social angle as well. Three years ago I started a book club at my house and invited a variety of friends. We meet monthly and there’s a theme. You can read your choice of fiction or non-fiction, as long as you relate the book to the theme. We also have a potluck. It’s a tremendously satisfying social activity I can still partake in.


Assisstive Technology for Older Adults

The other evening I attended a session at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club called, “Assistive Technology for Older Adults.” I was drawn to this because many of the people in the support group I facilitate are older adults AND much of what is marketed toward seniors can help people with certain chronic health conditions.

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