Barbara Meehan offers support to LGBTQ+ dementia caregivers

Aug 29, 2023

In January 2022, Barbara Meehan of Wareham logged onto Google Meet for the first time to meet with people from all over the country and offer an outlet of support.

Though these individuals were complete strangers at the time, they had more in common than most and would soon become close friends.

This Google Meet group aims to provide support to LGBTQ+ individuals who have found themselves in the role of “caregiver” for a spouse or other relative living with dementia, many with Alzheimer’s.

Meehan started the group with the help of the Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Meehan has been an Alzheimer’s advocate for approximately a decade, dedicating her time to working with state and federal legislatures and participating in events and groups with similar aims.

Her inspiration for all of her work comes from her partner Faye Mills, who she lost to Alzheimer’s in 2015.

Jennifer Hoadley, Southeastern Massachusetts regional manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, said the group is “somewhat unique,” but more like it are starting to pop up.

“There is a difference in some of the content they may discuss just because of the issues that they are faced with in their communities,” she said. “So I think that it helps them to feel more comfortable when they’re in a support group with other people that understand the same issues.”

For example, Hoadley said she and Meehan had a caregiver in the group whose spouse served in the military. The caregiver was planning to send their spouse to a facility run by Veterans Affairs, but there was a concern about how much of their relationship should be disclosed and if that would cause any backlash.

Hoadley said this isn’t just an issue for military facilities, but is a valid concern whenever sending a loved one to a long-term care center.

“This is stuff that they faced for all of their relationship, but now bringing in services of people they don’t know,” she said.

She added LGBTQ+ individuals are concerned if they have to go back “into the closet” or risk receiving different care based on judgment. 

“I’m really, really proud that we have got this started and that it is so successful,” Hoadley said. “Barb has been an awesome volunteer. I’m really proud to know her as a person and a volunteer.”

Hoadley said each support group session includes 10 to 12 individuals.

Meehan said hailing from places such as Vermont, Illinois, Louisiana and Massachusetts, the group meets every week, excluding the second Wednesday of the month.  

Meehan said what everyone loves about this group is “you don’t have to explain who you are or who you love.”

In addition, she said the group members are able to connect in a unique way based on their shared experiences. 

Though some members from the original session have remained, others have come and gone.

She said some weeks are “heavier” than others, with more serious topics of conversation.

Meehan added that a few of the men’s husbands from the group have gone into long-term care. 

“From experience, that’s devastating,” she said. “It’s really hard for them to adjust to that.” 

Meehan said, “The three saddest days of my life were the day Faye died, the day my father died and the day I had to say to the nursing home, ‘I can’t take care of her.’” 

She said she is able to use her experience and emotions as a guide for supporting others in the group who are now going through what she has survived.

Though caregivers sending their loved ones to long-term care is difficult, she added the group has been working to support them every step of the way. 

One week, a caregiver was struggling with some unfortunate news related to their spouse’s health, Meehan said.

Despite the emotions this caregiver was feeling at the time, by the end of the hour, he was laughing along with the rest of the group, she said.

Meehan said it is important to look out for those who have taken on these roles as caregivers. 

Just providing company and comfort can go a long way, she said.