RLS Support Group Meetings

May 28, 2021 In-Person and Virtual Meetings By Steven Zucker, Metro Denver RLS Support Group Leader As a member of the RLS Founda...

May 28, 2021
In-Person and Virtual Meetings
By Steven Zucker, Metro Denver RLS Support Group Leader

As a member of the RLS Foundation, I eagerly anticipate each new edition of NightWalkers. A few years ago, I would immediately flip to the back pages, checking to see if a Colorado support group had been started. My disappointment eventually led me to inquire about starting one. In April 2019, I was approved to become the Metro Denver RLS Support Group leader.

As I planned for our first meeting, I had several initial goals in mind. I envisioned this group as a source of social-emotional support in our struggles to cope with RLS; a vehicle for educating ourselves as fully as possible regarding RLS symptoms, treatments and ongoing research; and, a way to help one another become effective advocates for our own treatment when visiting doctors and other healthcare practitioners. Feedback from the group suggests that we are upholding these goals.

Our first three support group meetings were held in person. We had ample opportunity to share our stories and compare notes regarding the physicians we see and our treatment regimens. We discussed the remarkable range of medications and treatments used by group members and the ever-changing regimen we all seemed to follow trying to stay one step ahead of our symptoms. Prior to each meeting, I would share a tentative agenda and numerous scholarly articles in hope of facilitating group discussion. The group consistently requested that we invite experts in the field to speak at our meetings. We were very fortunate to have Jacci Bainbridge, PharmD, join our last in-person meeting; her expertise was very much appreciated!

When COVID-19 became our new reality, all in our group were in favor of waiting out COVID until we could resume in-person meetings. But after five months, the group seemed more open to trying virtual meetings. We went from having roughly 25 people attending to only six or seven consistently joining our virtual meetings.

Despite fewer members in attendance, virtual support group meetings have proved successful. Members continued to share successes and frustrations in their attempts to cope effectively with their RLS symptoms. We continued to review pertinent research articles and discussed how to make our time together as valuable as possible and how to eliminate aspects of virtual meetings that were problematic to some. For example, the inability for everyone to speak during the discussion, the lack of opportunity to provide feedback, and various technical issues.

Body language is not nearly as effective when meeting virtually. One big challenge for me as the moderator of the virtual format has been to monitor speaking time and ensure that all members have sufficient opportunity to share and feel truly heard by the group. As members grew more comfortable with the virtual format, conversations among members outside of meetings via email seemed to increase substantially. These email conversations seemed comparable to the naturally occurring in-person conversations during break times, or while leaving our meeting space and packing up food and supplies.

I asked group members for their input regarding the effectiveness of virtual meetings. Many people enjoyed being able to participate in their sweats and especially appreciated eliminating a three-hour drive each way to attend in- person meetings. Here are some additional responses:

One benefit of virtual meetings may be that it allows easier access to speakers and experts in the field. It seems more reasonable to ask for one hour of a speaker’s time online to answer questions than to request that they travel to our meeting site. I hope there is willingness on the part of the experts I contact to participate in this way!

In these times of COVID-induced isolation, it's great to actually see some faces and hear some voices that share common concerns… to pass on and receive encouragement, share experiences with various treatments and medications, and share notes about different doctors. The support of Clara and the Foundation seems to make the virtual meetings go very smoothly.

Meeting and speaking with the group (whether in person or virtually) is something of a comforting balm and gives the additional gift of knowing that we are not crazy, nor are we alone.

When it is safe to meet in person once again, it is my hope that virtual meetings can and will continue. In so many beneficial ways, they are the perfect complement to gathering in person. I trust our group members will agree.

Virtual Support Meetings on Zoom are open to all - RLS Foundation members and non-members, RLS patients and their families, anyone interested in learning more about RLS looking for a safe place to share RLS concerns and victories! To register, go to www.rls.org/VSG.

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