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Park Place of Elmhurst

Getting Through Together: Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group at Park Place

two elderly women smiling

According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s web site, an estimated 6.5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer's disease in 2022. They present another staggering statistic: more than 11 million Americans act as caregivers to loved ones with Alzheimer’s, amounting to more than 16 billion hours of unpaid care in 2011.

With so many people facing a family member’s debilitating disease, one thing is certain: those caregivers need support. Thankfully for those in the Elmhurst and surrounding areas, that help can be found right at Park Place, thanks to two dedicated Park Place residents: Ann Knutson and Cathy Shea, who both have experience with caring for someone with dementia.

Ann’s Story

Ann and Cathy moved to Park Place over 10 years ago, making them among the first people to move in. Ann and her husband Ken were grateful for the available healthcare on campus, but they didn’t anticipate needing those services for many years; they were still young (Ann was in her 60). But shortly before moving to Park Place, Ann’s husband was unexpectedly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He died within a year of their move to Park Place.

“You never expect that,” Ann said. “I thought we’d enjoy retirement together for a while.”

After her husband died, Ann joined the Alzheimer’s caregiver support group that met on campus, led at that time by a staff member. She was strengthened by the camaraderie she found there.

“No one else understands,” she says of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, “not unless you’ve been through it.”

When the group was looking for a new leader, Ann stepped up and took on the challenge.

“I really wanted to give back after what I’d been through,” she says, “I thought I had some valuable things to share.”

Cathy’s Story

Cathy’s story is similar. After she suffered a stroke, she and her husband decided on a move to Park Place, but as she started to gain her health back, she resisted. Her husband Ed, a psychiatric social worker who had cared for his own aging father and had studied the benefits of a life care community, was in favor of the move, and their children also urged them that Park Place offered the best lifestyle for them. Cathy finally agreed.

“I always say that I’m the one who came here kicking and screaming,” Cathy says, smiling. “I did not want to come, and Ed really did. And we had 10 wonderful years here.”

But Cathy’s association with Alzheimer’s was a bit different than Ann’s. “My sister’s husband had Lewy Body Dementia, and Ed’s father had been bed-ridden with dementia for five years, so I was part of his care team,” she says. “I had seen the toll dementia takes on caregivers.”

It was because of her experience that she noticed small changes in Ed, who had joined Ann in leading the Alzheimer’s Support Group at Park Place. 

“I saw small things, things other people might not have noticed,” she says. “It was mostly forgetfulness or confusion. But I just knew.”

She wasn’t surprised when test results showed that Ed was diagnosed with, not mild, but moderate cognitive decline. Three years after his diagnosis, Ed passed away unexpectedly.

“We were young, just like Ann and Ken,” Cathy says. “It’s unexpected. But to have this community at Park Place, and then our support group—I was so grateful to be here.”

Soon after Ed’s death, Cathy took her husband’s place as a co-facilitator of the Alzheimer’s caregivers support group.


Ann and Cathy make a great team. Both are committed to educating themselves through reading and research, and to finding resources that can help members of the group. They know that taking the step to attending a group like this takes a tremendous amount of courage, and they know how little free time caregivers have for themselves. The ladies want group time to be valuable for everyone. 

The Alzheimer’s caregiver support group meets from 9-10am on the second Thursday of every month, right in the Park Place private dining room. Sometimes only a handful of people show up; other times, there are more than 20 people. This free group is open to caregivers of people with any condition that effects memory, not just Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re an officially-affiliated Alzheimer’s Association support group, and we’re open to the public,” Ann says. “About half of the attendees live at Park Place, and the rest are from the surrounding community.”

The group allows people to freely share their experiences, ideas, and resources. And one of the most comforting aspects of the group is that everything is completely confidential.

“You don’t have to share if you don’t want to,” Cathy says. “But if you do, it doesn’t leave the room, and members find immense support from the experiences of other group members.”

They urge anyone going through the struggles of caregiving to give the group a chance. “Try it once,” Ann says. “If it doesn’t help, you don’t have to come back. But I hope you do.”

If you’d like more information about the Alzheimer’s caregiver support group, contact Ann at (630) 478-9220 or





Alzheimers Support Group