What Role does Church have in Caregiving?

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Did you know that the church has a role to play in caregiving? In fact, a healthy church could reasonably expect to touch caregiving on several different levels.

Betsy and I grew up in different denominations; she was Southern Baptist, and I was Methodist. Both of us saw how the church ministered to its aging members and their families through illnesses, loss of mobility, chronic diseases and death. To be a part of a church body has always meant being a member of a family unrelated by blood but bound together by a common faith and a belief system that calls us to care for one another even as we would want to be cared for. 

Many of today’s churches have an abundance of members who need care or assistance. Over time these seniors move to the “homebound” ministry and largely vanish from active fellowship. When people who were once vital to leadership or support roles throughout the congregation become limited by physical challenges, losses are felt on both sides. The church that doesn’t find a way to reach out and engage its homebound members loses opportunities to benefit from wisdom and experience. The homebound members lose fellowship and an important sense of connectedness that keeps them feeling loved and supported.

Homebound ministry programs can bridge the gap, plugging younger members in to build relationships with older members who can no longer get out and go to church. Too often, however, this type of caregiving isn’t recognized by most of the members who come to worship, study scripture, and otherwise make the church the center of their lives. It is largely an invisible ministry program because, unlike music, children’s ministry, singles, and missions, it never gets placed in front of the church members and highlighted. Most churches don’t do a good job of sharing the testimony of their homebound members who have benefitted from visits, fruit baskets, meals, and the like. Likewise, few churches offer support groups for family caregivers. Senior adult ministry programs might address some of these important needs, but more emphasis is needed to make members aware of the opportunities that are literally all around them. 

The church’s primary mission, as it has always been, is to make disciples for Christ. Next, it must nurture and care for those disciples and equip them to evangelize their own corner of the world. Aging seniors and their family caregivers need this nurture and care as well as the equipping. If they cannot still attend church, then the church must attend to them. Family caregivers need to know that their loved ones are not forgotten by their church families, and that their own church fellowship has not forgotten the caregiver as well.

Betsy and I hope you will join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about how you see the role of your church in caregiving.

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Faith and Family

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Easter came early this year, but not a moment too soon for me! As a Christian, this is the highest and most holy day we can observe in our faith walk. Reflection is not only appropriate but also necessary to properly embrace the full weight of what Christ did to save you and me from our sins. The gift of eternal life made possible by those events surpasses anything that came before or has happened since.

When families share a common faith in Christ, their burden is made lighter, at least to some degree, by their mutual beliefs. Promises in scripture range from God’s never-ending faithfulness (Psalm 26:3, Genesis 24:27, Psalm 86:11, 15), his unchanging promises to hear and answer our prayers (Genesis 25:21, 1Kings 8:45), provide for our every need (Genesis 22:8, Romans 5:17), and will go with us when we cannot make on our own (Psalm 23:4) are only a part of the comfort verses that bring encouragement. Jesus also gave us the Holy Spirit, who intercedes unceasingly on our behalf (John 14:26), and the New Testament epistles are filled with exhortations to the faith community to care for each other. Next week we will talk more about the role the Church plays in caregiving, but the fellowship you share not only with your family members but also others in your church family help to ease the challenges you face, and trials of caregiving are made easier by the strength and courage your faith provides.

Family caregivers with faith in Christ have access to the throne of God Almighty by exercising our faith through prayer and supplication. The Holy Spirit and ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1-3) will intercede on our behalf before our Father in Heaven, and He will provide whatever is needed, because we are loved, cherished, and redeemed. We are children of the King of Kings, and he will not allow us to be overcome by the world and its trials. Hold fast to the hope you profess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23) 

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how a shared faith strengthens your family.

When Caregiving Costs Your Career

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A family caregiver gives up many things to provide full-time care to aging family members. We’ve already discussed how caregiving can impact your marriage and your parenting effectiveness, but what about your career? Whether you are climbing a corporate ladder somewhere or working in an hourly capacity, finding the time to be a full-time caregiver can seriously hurt your ability to keep your balance between your workplace and your care responsibilities!

When aging parents or relatives need help, the career path of their adult child may be significantly altered if they are needed to provide assistance, either temporarily or for an extended period of time. Most employers can withstand a few days of unplanned leave when their employee has a family emergency, but few expect this absence to go on for weeks or even months. The COVID-19 pandemic with its ever-changing workplace accomodations showed us that employees can be out of work for extended periods of time for many different reasons, but even the most patient of employers will eventually have to refill vacated positions. Whether you write contracts, manage schedules, teach in a classroom or empty trashcans, your job is important and when you aren’t there someone else has to backfill your responsibilities or workflow stops and our economy suffers. Imagine if, because you had to stop working to help out your aging mom or dad, your company failed and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were laid off…the cascading effect is remarkable! 

Even if you only work for fun, or because you find meaning in what you do, it might be difficult to step away from something you love doing in order to become a family caregiver. Many people find their identity in the work they do, and there’s nothing wrong with this as long as you keep your job in perspective. Work should never come before God, and never come before family, spouse, and relationships. At best it should probably be 4th or 5th in your priorities. But if you find your identity in your work, you might lose yourself if you step away to become a full-time caregiver. Your new role gets little appreciation or recognition. There is probably nobody around to tell you what a great job you did changing that bed, or what an amazing meal you cooked. You won’t get awards for making sure your dad took all of his pills last week, and your mom won’t bonus you for helping her get to the bathroom before she had an accident. It is a largely thankless job you are choosing over one that really felt great every single day, but with the right motivation you can find that endorphin rush in caregiving as well.

In either of these scenarios you will have better success if you start planning for possibilities before you even need to worry about it. Nobody has a crystal ball that will show us the future of care needs, but with keen observation and wisdom born of age we can come closer to seeing the writing on the wall and prepare ourselves to be able to meet the challenge when needs arise. Whatever your work situation might be, if you plan for change before you transition to being a family caregiver the results will be beneficial for you, your workplace, and your aging loved ones. Talk to your employer, or your direct supervisor, as situations change with your parents and you begin to see warning signs of care needs ahead. Scope out resources local to your aging family members and start some conversations to get initial details nailed down early. One of the biggest mistakes Betsy and I see families make is delaying their groundwork in meeting possible helpers early on, well before care is needed. If you go ahead and meet local care resources (hospice, home health, home care, retirement communities, and rehab options) beforehand, the choice will be easier when you need help. Also, outside resources can be the difference between giving up your job and flourishing in it. 

With the right preparation, you can look like a rockstar whether you are building your career, being a full-time caregiver, or becoming a hybrid of both.

Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how to balance caregiving with your career.

Between the Generations: When Caregiving Costs Your Kids

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Being a family caregiver requires lots of time and focus given to your older family members who require care, and if you have your own children as well you might feel squeezed at times between needs on both generations. None of us wants to lose any of our family relationships when we become family caregivers, but the risk is very real.

In the best scenarios, when we become family caregivers our kids are grown, and we have an empty nest at home, leaving us with plenty of free time to care for older family members. That’s pretty much what I experienced when my mother began to need more of my focus and attention. While I still had responsibilities to my husband and at work, I had enough freedom to make frequent visits to Georgia where my mom lived. It was helpful to see her more often, and I could recognize signs of decline that my brother didn’t realize when he saw her nearly every day.

Unfortunately, having an empty nest isn’t reality for most family caregivers. The “sandwich generation” is aptly named. Whether your children are in kindergarten or in high school, they still need time with their parents, and if mom or dad are also managing care for other family members, they can find themselves stretched to unmanageable lengths. Younger children need closer supervision and direction, while tweens and teens have wholly different needs for the presence and attention of parents in their lives. Your kids may feel resentment, frustration, loneliness and even anger if you are absent from important events in their lives because Lolly or Pop had a doctor’s appointment or was in the hospital. School performances, classroom presentations, field trips and the like are all special opportunities for you to support your child, learn more about his or her interests, and demonstrate their importance to you. When such events occur, put your backup plan in place and have someone else provide care for a period of time so you can be away with your child.

When your children are young it’s also your responsibility to nurture the relationship between your child and the older family members you care for. Plan time spent all together and let your child help provide care if this is possible and appropriate. Organize a story-telling session where your mom or dad tells a story from his or her childhood and your child relates one of their own. Highlight the similarities and watch a relationship begin to blossom!

Family caregivers with older, grown children are often still needed for advice, wisdom, friendship or even babysitting for grandchildren on occasion, leaving constraints on your ability to give care to others. These are special opportunities to deepen your relationships while also encouraging your grown children and demonstrating your constant support and love for them. While they probably don’t need help with homework anymore, it’s nice when you can take some time to hear about your daughter’s weekend away with friends, or your son’s job offers. While these conversations are usually spontaneous, it’s important to be able to value and honor the time they require, and this time is an investment you can never get back if it is lost. When the call comes, carefully evaluate whether you can step away from caregiving for a little while and give your focus to your child. If you cannot, explain your situation and schedule another time to talk when you will be free. If the event is larger, like a wedding or the birth of a grandchild, move heaven and earth to activate your backup plan and show up for your child. The backup plan is invaluable to your ability to manage being everywhere you need to be, but with thoughtful planning you can win at both parenting and caregiving. 

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about healthy parenting as a family caregiver.

When Caregiving Costs Your Marriage

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When we talk about the cost of being a family caregiver, we have to consider what this responsibility does to your marriage. Whether you’ve been married only a few months or many decades, caring for aging family members definitely takes its toll. Whether your loved one lives close by or far away, providing hands-on care takes time and effort, and might even mean spending nights, days, or even weeks away from your life partner. 

When Betsy’s mother was in her last years of life, she was faced with the need to do her part to help her brother with their mom’s care as well as finding ways to spend quality time with her mom. This was a challenge, since Sarah lived nearly 500 miles away. But, for the last 2 years or so of Sarah’s life, Betsy made the commitment to spend most of a week with her each month. Driving took about 8 hours each way. Flying became the preferred way to go, because Betsy could leave our house at about 5 am, fly to Atlanta, pick up a rental car and be at her mother’s house by 10:30 am. Return trip days meant getting in on the last flight, which landed at our local airport sometime after 11:00 pm. If the plane was on time, that is. Betsy’s schedule meant that I was not only the taxi driver to and from the airport, but also meant that I was left home alone, with the business that we run together, the dog, and the empty house.  When Sarah fell and broke her hip, the time between that event and her death required longer stays away for Betsy, and longer absences between us.  

During these times, I missed my wife a lot! We have been married over 30 years, and she is also my best friend and my business partner. Her absence left a hole in my life until she got back. During these times she also needed my support. She was stressed with the travel, with the knowledge that time with her mother was short, and she was worried that she needed to do even more than she was already doing. She was concerned for our business. She was concerned for her brother, who would be left with the entire load when she came back home. She also felt the loneliness and separation from me, as much or more than I did, but when she got home, she was often exhausted and overwhelmed with it all. 

If you are caring for a loved one, the physical and mental fatigue of being a caregiver can leave you with nothing left to give to your spouse. If you don’t prepare for this in partnership with your spouse, you might find that it builds frustration, resentment, and a whole host of negative emotions that can fracture the foundation of your marriage. We were able to minimize the strain by following a few rules. 
First, COMMUNICATE! Much earlier in our marriage, when I was a sales rep and often on the road overnight, we made a commitment to talk to each other on the phone every day when I was away. Often, I would stay in my room and order room service and call home over dinner so we could eat together. We have kept this practice up, so that we talk every day, and I mean really talk, whenever one of us has to be away. And, when we are talking, both sides have to commit to sharing honest feelings AND listening to the other. Marriage is a partnership, and that “better or worse” part of the vows we made is crucial. We are supposed to be able to share each other’s successes and bear one another’s burdens. 

The second thing is to REST. Betsy would come home during those days, and the next day needed to be almost a free day for her to reset for being home for a stretch. If you are caring for someone locally, make the time to take a day off and rest. Engage other family or even consider hiring some help for your loved one so that you can get the rest you need. Caregiving is exhausting; don’t let it overwhelm you. And make certain that your spouse knows how critical this time is for you.

Finally, plan special time with your spouse that doesn’t involve caring for anyone else. Betsy and I would plan dinners out, movies, and romantic evenings at home. Whatever you do, if it is scheduled, you can plan for it and enjoy the excitement of anticipating that time. A date night a week is ideal, but at least one every month is pretty much a necessity! And when you plan something, make it an absolute commitment. Don’t let anything other than a genuine emergency alter your plan. 

As is the case in so many things, maintaining balance is the key to success. Also, keeping the perspective that while the stresses of caregiving are real, in most cases they are also only for a season. Remember that seasons come and go, but your marriage is a partnership that is meant to endure all seasons. Nurture it and prioritize it and you can flourish in the midst of the struggles. 

Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding time to nurture your marriage will being a family caregiver.

Can Medicare Help?

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A question frequently asked by family caregivers is this: does Medicare pay for home care services? A common misconception is that, once an individual turns 65, they are automatically covered by Medicare and ALL their medical needs are paid for through one of their Medicare plans. This is not true in most cases, but each individual’s needs must be weighed separately in order to determine whether benefits are available.

The Medicare program was originally created in 1965 to assist individuals 65 and older with hospital costs and basic medical care. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the program was originally created to provide good medical insurance for the elderly population 65 and older who could not find good insurance once they had retired. 

Over the years Congress has expanded Medicare to include coverage for disabled individuals under the age of 65, those with end-stage renal disease, and those 65 and older who select Medicare. Today the program also covers some aspects of home care when home is used as an alternative to a rehab facility. When personal care services are needed at home in conjuction with rehabilitation or recovery, Medicare may be an option.

Think of it this way: Medicare services cover the 3 R’s: recuperation, rehabilitation, or restoration. Medicare is usually a short-term intervention step, paying for services like a hospitalization after a fall or prescribed rehabilitative visits to prevent the fall in the first place. 

It’s a complicated issue, and not easily understood by many. Chris and I won’t try to explain all the ins and outs of Medicare here, but it is important to understand that Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) cover some eligible home care services under certain circumstances. The need for help must be intermittent or occasional, and services are usually coordinated by a home care agency working with under a doctor’s orders. If your loved one needs care most or all of the time, Medicare is not the solution you seek. For more details on covered services and those that are excluded, visit www.medicare.gov

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how Medicare can be of benefit to your aging family members.

The Real Cost of Care

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The most common question asked when a family is looking for care for an aging loved one is, “What will it cost?” While this question is not unexpected, it also isn’t easy to answer, and depends on a wide spectrum of considerations. The first, and perhaps most appropriate, question to be asked is: who will be best suited to provide the care?

Some family caregivers are able to be full-time care providers for their aging family members, either because they are naturally gifted in this role, or because they feel they have no other choice. If you are one who is naturally gifted, you probably see your responsibilities as meaningful and fulfilling. You embrace being a family caregiver with passion and creativity and even gain energy from the care and support you deliver to aging parents and family members. You were born for this work, and you live to serve others.

But if this isn’t you, there are many others who have the job of family caregiver thrust upon them for any number of reasons. You might be the one who lives closest to aging family members, or perhaps you don’t work full-time or don’t have young children to raise. You could also be in a spousal relationship, such as a daughter-in-law, and feel pressured into caring for the aging parent or grandparent simply because you are the youngest and newest family member. You could even be an older grandchild who is not yet living independently and as such you are expected to move in with grandparents to provide live-in care as a family responsibility. In any of these situations you could rightfully feel stressed, exhausted, guilty and frustrated in the role of family caregiver.

Others don’t physically provide all the care needed by their aging parents; rather, they coordinate that care through volunteers or paid professional caregivers. Several factors need to be in alignment for this caregiving role to be a possibility. You need to be a decision-maker with strategic skills to be able to create and manage a schedule and coordinate volunteers, or to choose an agency and work with it to create and manage your loved one’s care. There must also be financial resources if care will be hired, either privately or through an agency. If private help is hired, there is an added burden to becoming an employer with filing the appropriate state and federal hiring paperwork as well as collecting employee portions and paying all the employer costs involved with hiring employees, but that’s a story for another time.

Whichever situation best describes you, you are not alone. Whatever path you walk, there is always a cost for care. Often the price of care impacts your bank account or that of another, but that’s not the only way to calculate the true cost.

The natural caregiver’s cost can be felt in limitations to the pursuit of other interests, the inability to engage in social opportunities, and even a lack of focus on one’s personal and family health and welfare.

The forced family caregiver’s cost is more emotional in nature. Feelings of resentment, guilt, and anger may color your relationships with other family members and cause stress on your marriage as well. This cost has been disruptive in many family relationships. 

If you are the coordinator family caregiver with volunteer or privately hired employees your cost comes mostly in relationships. While you may still be able to pursue career, social, and spiritual relationships, being the boss is never easy, and if you aren’t gifted as a scheduler and sweet talker, you can get in big trouble quickly! Losing relationships means losing volunteers and/or losing employees if you aren’t an experienced manager with excellent people and communication skills. And, of course, if you are paying privately hired caregivers, there’s the organizational piece to all the paperwork and managing a payroll.

If you’ve hired privately or engaged an agency to provide the care, your cost is partly financial, and home care becomes more expensive with each passing year. Resources must be managed carefully to obtain the necessary care while keeping tabs on what is still in the bank account, and other family members may question how Mom’s money is being spent.

Being a family caregiver on any level always carries a cost, and the negative impacts may be felt in your physical, emotional, spiritual, or social well-being, as well as with your career options and family relationships. But if you feel called to this work, in whatever capacity, God will equip you and give you the necessary resources to do the work with a joyful heart. If you are the gifted caregiver give thanks for your calling. If you are the forced caregiver pray for patience, endurance, strength and resources to carry you through. If you are the coordinator caregiver give thanks for the ability to do what needs doing with the resources God has already provided, and thank Him for equipping you for the role you play in your loved one’s care. Home Instead has created an excellent family caregiver resource with lots of information to make your task easier and more manageable. 

Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about what care really costs.

Home is Best…Sometimes

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When aging parents begin to need help, most want to continue living at home. Chris’s mom was able to grow older in her own home until her late eighties and my own mom did the same until she passed away peacefully at the age of 97. Both had help in their last few years, but mostly they maintained their independence and lived full, active lives. They were in relatively good health, involved in their churches and communities, and had family close by. 

While most older adults want to continue living at home, growing older there may not be the right choice for everyone. There are many options that need to be considered when making plans for the months or even years ahead. Considering all the possibilities takes some time, but it’s an investment that reaps great rewards if thoroughly done. Considerations include chronic health conditions, characteristics of the home environment, availability of local family and support systems, and financial resources. Choices might range from remaining at home with help or moving in with a family member to selling the family home and opting for a smaller, more manageable living space like a garden home or apartment. Big houses might require too much upkeep for creaky joints, and stairs can become a hazard as well. In addition, when one spouse passes away, the other might experience deep depression in the emptiness of a home shared for decades.

As increasing numbers of Baby Boomers retire, communities are springing up everywhere that cater to their desire for active healthy lifestyles and opportunities for social gatherings in adults-only neighborhoods that offer attractive single-story open floorplans with limited home and yard maintenance requirements. Continuing Care Retirement Communities have stepped up to offer levels of care that appeal to those who, because of health concerns, wisely anticipate future needs but are able to begin at an independent living level that offers frequent social gatherings along with housekeeping and nutritional support if needed.

Moving in with another family member may seem to be the best choice for some, but this is not necessarily as easy as it might appear to be on the surface. Having your mom or dad (or both) move in with you could bring invasion of privacy on both sides, as well as disrupting routines for everyone. This transition should be considered carefully, and ground rules established for all concerned to include meals, schedules, household responsibilities and expectations, and even parking priorities if a car is also being added to your driveway or garage.

Home Instead has some good resources on living options, but the bottom line is that you need to do your homework, and do it well, before you or others make a decision that results in insult or injury. The end goal is that your aging loved ones can live where they want to as they grow older, safely and happily, and able to be connected socially with friends, family, and their faith community.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about helping your aging family members find the best living environment for their unique needs as they grow older.

Finding Balance in Everything

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The Balancing Act: Caregiving and Everything Else

It is rare that a family caregiver’s life is not filled with responsibilities related to many different parts of their world. Most of us don’t have the luxury of only playing this one role in life, and while most people in general wear many different hats, the job of the family caregiver is particular weighty.

In addition to caring for your mom or dad, you might also be managing your job or career, raising a family, nurturing a marriage, and maintaining friendships, not to mention cultivating your spiritual life! Really, it can be exhausting, and it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day! In order to successfully navigate these deep waters, you need to put some strategies in place that will bring equilibrium to each day, allowing you to grow and bloom where you are planted.

If you’ve been doing this for a while now, you probably recognize that prayer and prioritization are two crucial practices to keeping everything in balance. Daily prayer time helps you focus and allows your Creator to guide your thoughts on how to define your priorities each day. One of the lasting impacts I have gained from COVID-19 is that of reorienting my priorities to center around the people who are important in my life rather than the tasks and responsibilities. Those relationships have come into sharp focus as a major area of precedence in my daily schedule.

One great technique to implement is to begin each week by examining every area of your life and choosing one or two tasks or activities in each that you will complete by the end of the week. You will have some activities that occur daily, and others that happen only occasionally. Take this time to ask yourself hard questions about what is really important, and then be honest as you rank your priorities. At week’s end, revisit your list and celebrate your accomplishments! Take a walk, eat a cookie, call a friend and brag. Do something to give yourself a high-five for your victory! If, however, some things didn’t happen as planned, don’t beat yourself up; instead, pray for insight, seek counsel from others, and try changing your plan for the next week. Keep in mind that the goal here is not perfection, but improvement through continuous practice. Ask any yoga practitioner, healthy balance doesn’t happen overnight, but with years of effort, trial and error.

Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how you manage to keep everything in balance.

Who Can You Trust?

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Family caregivers often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to trust people that they don’t know well. There are several occasions where this might happen. If you are new to the role of being a family caregiver, you might need to accompany your dad to a doctor’s appointment or go with your mom to her hairdresser’s salon. These interactions require a certain degree of trust, but your dad or mom probably already has a trust relationship that you can also adopt. Not so when it comes to allowing complete strangers to come into your mom’s home in a health-related capacity. When home health, hospice, or even private duty home care aides are needed to give your aging family members the care they need it’s easy to understand why you might have questions or concerns.

Whether this situation arises with long-term hired help or in utilizing short-term respite options, someone needs to make every effort to determine the trustworthiness of the person or people to whom you are entrusting the care of your aging parents. This job usually falls to the family caregiver.

If you are working with a professional service that hires individuals to provide home health, hospice, or home care services, check to see if they are licensed by your state, and if they are insured against theft to protect your loved ones’ valuables. Ask if they run background checks, do drug testing, and check references. A good company will do all of these and have reviews online as well. These will tell part of the story but maybe not all of it. Hatchet jobs are common in today’s “cancel culture” so ask for personal testimonials from current or former clients if you still have reservations. A trustworthy company will be able to provide these in short order.

If you are thinking about hiring privately, interviews are a good starting place, but professional references and even background checks are also important elements in determining the safety and comfort of your mom or dad. These might be difficult for you to obtain as a private citizen, but they are significant considerations.

Recommendations from others in your community are beneficial, but you still need to do your due diligence when hiring an individual or organzation you can trust with providing care for those you love. And, as with all things, you will want to cover this entire process with prayer and ask God to lead you to the right people or resources that will lead to the best outcomes for both you and your aging family members.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding others you can trust to provide care when you can’t be there.