The Value of Respite Care

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Family caregivers take on a tremendous amount of responsibility when they agree to oversee an aging family member’s care. Chris and I have owned a home care company for 20 years now, and we have seen too many family caregivers lose their own health while caring for another. I recently received a letter from the son of one of our clients, a woman who needed care for few weeks while she recovered from surgery. In the letter, he wrote,

“…I’ve seen the toll family caregivers take thinking they can do it all, and (I) wanted more for my family.”

One of the biggest mistakes a family caregiver can make is trying to go it alone with no help from others. This decision, a “Lone Ranger” mentality, can lead to irreversible damage to the caregiver’s physical health as well as their mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Even if you are the only family member that is available to become the family caregiver, that doesn’t mean you have to be the only person involved in giving care. Sharing care with others is a much more balanced approach to providing the best care possible while keeping yourself healthy as well.

Respite care should be a vital piece of your caregiving puzzle. Respite means to take a break or give temporary relief from a stressful situation. Having a respite care plan is essential to successfully navigating your season of caregiving for aging loved ones. Your plan could reflect several different solutions, and might involve other family members, friends, or neighbors, a brief facility stay or even a professional home care agency; any or all of these possibilities will benefit you greatly by providing you with a break from time to time.

If you choose to put together a plan that incorporates other family members, friends or neighbors you should carefully recruit and equip those individuals with the proper orientation and, if needed, training to be able to step in at a moment’s notice if necessary. Invite them to come and spend a morning or afternoon with you to understand what will be expected of them in their respite care role. Plan to work them into your schedule gradually, even a couple of hours here or there to start. Be available if they have questions. You could go to lunch with a friend or simply move to a different part of the house but keep your phone on and let your substitute work out the kinks before they are needed for a longer stay.

If your situation would be best served with a facility stay then check with local assisted living or skilled care facilities to see if they offer temporary stays for respite care. This might range from a couple of weeks up to a month or more. If you choose to supplement the care you provide with a professional home care company you should choose a company with a reliable reputation and well trained employees so you don’t find yourself in a lurch when the hired caregiver doesn’t show up. Ask about back-up plans and discuss compatibility criteria. The company will most likely want to visit with you and your loved one to set up the temporary or ongoing respite care. The more they understand about your loved one’s needs, and your own as well, the better chance they will have to create a schedule that best suits your needs.

Caregiving is stressful, but with support from others and a respite strategy you can be more consistent, more reliable, and more giving in the care you provide personally.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about the importance and value of a great respite care plan.

Successful Summer Visits

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Right now, everyone is craving social opportunities like nothing I’ve ever seen before! As we move into the summer months people are turning out in droves for neighborhood events, church gatherings, birthdays and special events. Family reunions and visits with older family members have taken on a new and deeper meaning since we just spent over a year not being able to gather in person. 

Summer has always been a common time for families with young children to travel to visit older relatives who live far away. While I was blessed to live close to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, Betsy grew up with grandparents who lived several hundred miles away. For her, a trip to visit her grandmother meant a 6-hour car ride, and a joyous time of playing on her grandmother’s farm in North Carolina.

This summer, unlike last year, families who have been vaccinated may gather together and enjoy an intergenerational celebration. For some, this will happen at a family reunion, maybe an outdoor event involving food, fellowship, and fun. For others, the visit might be more individualized, like going to stay with grandparents for a few days. These visits are certainly welcomed and encouraged, but they can also be uncomfortably disruptive in a home that is usually quiet and orderly. 

In addition to the loud voices and happy squeals of little ones, there are dangers associated with running children and scattered toys. As the family caregiver, you’d be smart to set some house rules so everyone can enjoy the visit and at the end of the day all are sorry to see the day end.

Consider reaching out to your extended family and inquire about their summer visit plans to get the ball rolling. For those who indicate that a visit is in their upcoming travel plans, have a deeper conversation about planning the visit so everyone can make the most of it.

Update your relative about any changes in condition for those they plan to visit. A gentle word like, “Mom doesn’t walk as well as she used to,” or “Dad seems to get a little confused when his routine changes greatly,” will set the stage for expectations and remind parents of small children to keep a watchful eye on their child’s behavior.

If possible, set up a safe play space for children away from the grownups so conversation can happen in quiet comfort. Perhaps you could hire one or two of the youth from your church or neighborhood to come for a few hours and supervise or even plan activities for the kids while the adults visit.

Another great idea is to have a few age-appropriate toys available to interest and engage visiting children, or children’s videos to watch. Parents could bring toys or videos or make suggestions.

Keep meals simple. Soup and sandwiches, congealed salads, cookout items and the like are quick and easy options. Pasta salad is popular, and cookies and ice cream are both a must for dessert! Don’t stress over what to serve; a pot luck meal is frequently the favorite choice because everyone brings something they love to eat.

Be sure to give the children appropriate time to visit older relatives as their age allows. These visits are critical to developing a strong sense of family and heritage. Include them in the greeting time and at other, quieter times of the day. Ask parents to talk with their children before they arrive to explain any details like, “Granny’s ears don’t work as well as yours, so be patient if she doesn’t understand you,” or, “Uncle Mike can’t walk very well so we need to help him not trip and fall; maybe you could hold his hand when we go to the table for lunch.” Children can be wonderfully empathetic if we help them connect with age-related disabilities.

Finally, remember to plan for snacks. Little bodies need lots of fuel to keep running on high all the time. Let parents know (if they don’t already) a good spot for napping and changing diapers. A good supply of band aides and lollipops is also a smart investment.

Advanced planning and communication are the smartest ways to pull off a wonderful summer of visits for both young and old. Enjoy the visitors of summer! Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing summer’s visitors.

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic of 2020

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It’s been more than 15 months since a pandemic shuttered our world, our country, our communities, and our very lives. Now, as mask mandates are lifted and social distancing decreases, we seem to be gradually coming to the end of the COVID pandemic with its critical health risks, forced business closures, restricted access, and social isolation, and we’ve all learned some important lessons from these past many months. 

We’ve learned that family and other relationships, and spending real, quality time with those we love and care about, are more important than we realized before and we should never leave any loving or encouraging words unspoken, because we are never guaranteed more time that the minutes we are currently living. Travel restrictions, aging care facilities, medical centers and even colleges and universities prevented families from gathering and forced some family members to die alone because of visit restrictions driven by fear of infection. 

We’ve learned that social isolation is highly detrimental to those who live alone, regardless of age or ability. Being prevented from interacting socially with others negatively impacts our lives on every level: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Everyone needs some level of social engagement to be healthy and well-rounded. Advancing age and its related declining conditions and abilities tends to bring on some level of social isolation for many older adults, but the pandemic brought about these conditions almost overnight. Nobody was prepared for the mental and emotional trauma caused by being told to stay at home, only go out for essential tasks, wear masks and gloves, stay 6 feet from others, and limit your exposure to others in your environment to minutes. All these restrictions and limitations resulted in diminished physical activity (which resulted in weight gain for many people), binge or stress eating of comfort foods or overindulgence in alcohol or recreational drugs to help alleviate the stress of living in an unknown situation. Addictions and suicides increased. Many people lost their jobs, or were forced to take an extended, and sometimes unpaid, leave of absence while the business tried to find a way to reopen in compliance with pandemic mandates. Spiritually the damage came about when places of worship were not allowed to meet in person, so congregants lost their weekly opportunity to gather and find strength, support, and courage for the daily challenges that now were made worse by the pandemic. Mentally confusion arose when every day felt like “Blursday” with very little to distinguish weekdays from weekends.

We’ve learned to take technology and make it ours as we have used it to overcome some of the hurdles the pandemic threw in our path. We’ve learned that medical advances can come with blinding speed when scientists and researchers are motivated to collaborate and work together for a common purpose and the good of all people. We’ve learned that we can endure toilet paper shortages (and maybe we should stock up a little more from now on), we can work effectively from a closet in our house (now called the “cloffice”) or anywhere else on the planet as long as the wifi is good, we have managed to help our school-aged children home-school while also managing our own jobs or careers in the next room. We’ve learned that pets are a part of our daily lives and that we need them nearly as much as (and maybe more than) they need us.

We’ve learned all these lessons and so many more, and we will continue to learn as we emerge into the sunlight of a post-pandemic world.

Perhaps the most important lesson we’ve learned is that heroes walk among us, quietly living each day as they go about the business of serving others. Doctors, nurses, social workers, nurse assistants and certified nurse assistants, therapists of all kinds, schoolteachers, janitorial workers, day care providers, home care workers, personal care aides, family caregivers, and many others all show up day after day to do their essential jobs as they care for those who are sick or infirm or injured or weak and alone. These people, and the work they did during the pandemic, should be recognized for keeping our world running despite heretofore unseen challenges. If you are one of these heroes, we honor you here for your remarkable service during the pandemic. Thank you for your tireless service and your caring heart.

AARP offers 15 lessons learned  from COVID-19. Some other sources to inspire your thinking include CNNWebMD, and many more.

Betsy: Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at here at Heart of the Caregiver to learn more lessons and share your own from the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020.

Memorial Day Observance

Memorial Day is a day set aside for us to remember and honor those who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces. The holiday was initially observed on May 30 from 1868 until 1970, when it was moved to the last Monday in May. The memorializing elements of this holiday are often lost in the onset of the summer vacation season these days, but many older Americans still observe the holiday more traditionally. 

Formerly known as Decoration Day, many people observe this holiday by wearing poppies and placing flags on graves in military cemeteries across the country. Parades and special programs are traditionally held to honor veterans and remember the ultimate sacrifice they made while serving our country.

If your older loved ones know veterans who died in service to our country, perhaps you could visit their grave to place patriotic flowers or a flag. If those you care for are homebound, ask about memories of family members who were in the military. Look at photos and talk about those times. You might be surprised by what you learn!

Even if your mom or dad didn’t know anyone who served during wartime they probably have powerful memories about pivotal military moments such as Pearl Harbor, D-Day, or Desert Storm. Ask if they would be willing to share those memories with you. If they resist or seem uncomfortable talking about these events, then simply change the subject and leave it alone. Not everyone’s recollections are pleasant when related to military action.

Betsy’s family knew military service well. Her maternal grandfather was an infantryman during The Great War (World War I), and all four of his children served in either World War II or the Korean War. Betsy’s mother joined the Marine Corp after college during WWII and served stateside so “another man could go and fight” and her father joined the Army, also in WWII, and saw action in southern Europe and Northern Africa. While Sarah was happy to talk of her military service experience, her husband was always reluctant to discuss what he witnessed and experienced while in service. 

The important consideration for you as a family caregiver is that Memorial Day is intended to honor and remember sacrificial service. Consider how you can best do this with those you care for. There probably won’t be lots of parades and local gatherings again this year but check with your local community’s public events to see if anything is being held. This year people are eager to get out gather socially, so you might find some opportunities to be social. If this isn’t possible, you could put a flag out by your mailbox, or even line your driveway or sidewalk with small flowers. Consider brightening the kitchen with a patriotic bouquet. Perhaps you could write a note of appreciation to a soldier currently deployed through Operation Gratitude. Observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 pm local time. Another alternative is to make a donation to your local Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) for a “Buddy” Poppy. Your donation will help support disabled veterans through state and national rehabilitation programs.

If nothing else works, enjoy the warm weather and promise of summer just around the bend. With every day we are closer to a post-pandemic new normal!

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how you observe Memorial Day.

Focus on Fitness: Who’s Your Family?

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God made us to be social creatures who need a sense of family or belonging to feel safe and whole. It’s a part of our very nature to seek community with others, whether they are our blood relatives or a close, supportive circle of friends. When circumstances force us into extended isolation, as the COVID-19 pandemic has done, our very personhood suffers on many levels. Being a family caregiver frequently places limitations on one’s sense of connectedness outside of the care setting, and families need to stay connected to remain healthy. After all, the saying is true that the family that plays (and prays) together, stays together.

Members of a strong, connected family with healthy social connections tend to be much better at being or supporting family caregivers. These connections may take many forms, and over the last year we have certainly seen those supports expand to include much more technology! When we cannot be present physically, either because of the distance between us or a pandemic or other infectious illness, we can still gain support through frequent phone calls, uplifting text messages, and scheduled video calls. Cards, letters, and emails can also help us feel supported. Audio text messages let a family member hear your voice as well as your message of support and encouragement. A quick minute of video can easily bridge the distance gap and bring you together as well. Technologies like Zoom and FaceTime have even fostered family game nights, trivia nights, and meaningful remote visits as we have found ourselves desperate for ways to “be there” over the past 15 months even when we cannot. As we begin now to emerge from the restricted lifestyles we have been forced to endure, we must continue to make use of the skills we have acquired to strengthen our sense of connectedness even more.

Chris’s family is my best example of how family connections make us stronger and healthier. The man I married more than thirty years ago came from a very close-knit family, while I did not. It was an adjustment for me for sure, but as I have grown into this wonderful group of people over the years, I have learned how much strength, support, and encouragement is found there. Even when my own mother needed care, my in-laws were there for me when I felt stressed, lonely or exhausted. They all lived far away and couldn’t physically step in to help, but they reached out by phone, text, cards, and through prayer to give me support, encouragement, and love. Whenever I needed to talk to someone, I knew that Chris’s (and now my) amazingly supportive family was only a phone call or text message away. Over the past year they have found ways to stay connected, to support one another even as we all have aged into a place where some now need care. Many miles continue to separate us, and family gatherings simply could not happen during the year of the virus, but this family found ways to stay connected and continued to encourage one another to stay strong and persevere. If your family doesn’t regularly communicate and come together periodically, then maybe it’s time to begin some new traditions!

Having this kind of family foundation is incredibly helpful to prevent social isolation for a family caregiver, but not everyone has a family support system. Richard Bach, who authored Jonathan Livingston Seagull, one of my favorite books, also wrote a book called Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. In it I found a quote I resonated with while in college, and I believe it illustrates well what I have found to be true in my life. Here it is:

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

While in your season of caregiving your best support could be found in your circle of friends and neighbors, your church family, support group members or even an agency that employs professional caregivers who supplement the care you provide. If you don’t have any of these underpinnings that lift and fortify you, begin today to develop this kind of support system. You will be healthier for it, I promise.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about where you find your supportive ‘family’ in caregiving.

How Much Can You Lift…Spiritually?

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Family caregivers have endured many hardships over the past year as we have struggled through a pandemic combined with a brutal national election cycle and, depending on where you live, numerous unprecedented weather-related disasters as well. If you care for an older family member, likely you felt forced to isolate yourself and your loved one socially to prevent possible exposure to COVID-19. Without even the normal social interactions found by going to the grocery store, out to eat or the beauty salon, we suffered in loneliness. Even churches were limited to developing or expanding their online presence or holding parking lot services while congregants remained in their cars. Online worship can be very moving and meaningful, it cannot ever truly replace the strength, nurture and encouragement we experience when we come together as a family of believers. As we talk about a family caregiver’s fitness needs, we must acknowledge that their spiritual support is perhaps more crucial than any other fitness consideration.

Scripture teaches us of the strength and substance found in prayer, scripture study, worship, and Christian fellowship throughout the New Testament. Jesus modeled all these disciplines throughout his brief ministry and steeped His disciples in the importance of constant connection and relationship with our Creator God. As we pray and study scripture, we gain enlightenment and encouragement for the challenges we face each day; through worship we reflect our gratitude to our Lord and Savior who never changes and never gives up on us. Through Christian fellowship we find empathy, strength, courage, and resources to help us when we feel like giving up. Each one of these facets of our spiritual health is beneficial to the caregiving challenges you encounter day after day, but taken all together and practiced regularly, they equip you fully to overcome every obstacle and embody God’s blessings in their truest sense.

Perhaps COVID lulled you into a sense that virtual worship and Bible study is enough. Frankly, it had to suffice while everything was shut down, but don’t be fooled. When it is safe and allowed, get back to in-person worship and fellowship with other believers. Some days you might feel like there’s simply no time for Bible study or prayer time, but with discipline you will discover that those are the days when these practices are the most important features in your day.

Gaining or regaining spiritual fitness might be challenging at first, but I promise you that it will equip you as a family caregiver in ways you never thought possible!

Betsy and I hope you will join the conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about growing spiritually stronger.

The Value of Social Connections

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Over the last year of social isolation and distancing we have learned many things about the damage done by breaking the bonds of social interactions. The pandemic’s forced social distancing, paired with increased vulnerability to infection for certain age groups and those with certain health conditions, led to serious mental decline, increased depression and growth in substance abuse. Overall, those most impacted by social isolation clearly demonstrated the many dangers associated with this lonely lifestyle.

God made us to live in relationships, first with our Maker, and then with each other. We read in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone…” so God created a “helper” for Adam when He made Eve. While Adam was in fellowship with God from his first breath, his human nature needed to be in relationship with another human. Social relationships enhance our quality of life on many levels and also encourage us to grow toward becoming our best selves. Family caregivers frequently find themselves living very isolated lives. Social connectedness can strengthen and support the health and welfare of family caregivers and those they care for alike.

Relationships can be nurtured effectively by using modern technology, which can adequately bridge physical separation by fostering a sense of social connectedness. Social health can be strengthened through remote technology connections like phone calls or video chats, emails, and text messages, or through more traditional vehicles like note cards and letters, but nothing takes the place of in-person conversations. Using a variety of means to overcome physical separation can enhance one’s health on many levels.

Family caregivers frequently battle isolation and loneliness. Negative health impacts include depression, substance abuse and addictions, poor nutritional habits, forgetfulness, sleep disruption, and increased diagnoses of chronic diseases. Satisfying the need to feel connected through interactions with family members, friends, church fellowship and support groups can significantly improve overall health, yielding such benefits as increased brain function, better nutrition and self-care, and improved caregiving stamina and ability.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about strengthening your social connections.

Keeping a Healthy Mind

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Our mental state impacts our lives in every way. How we feel physically, socially, spiritually and otherwise depends largely on how healthy our minds are. Our mental wellbeing has a huge impact on our ability to care for others, but actually discussing one’s mental health is a tricky topic of conversation these days. Family caregivers are particularly vulnerable to depression, anxiety, loneliness and stress in general. All of these negative emotions can have adverse effects on the whole of your wellbeing, robbing you of rest and wrecking your immune system.

While there are many different contexts in which we find references to mental health within society today, for our purposes your mental health is what gives you the ability to think clearly, plan effectively, and manage schedules as a family caregiver. These are all critical skills to the responsibility of caregiving and require an agile mind to properly balance each area of caregiving. Thinking clearly helps you to assess the many different components involved in caring for an aging family member. Effective planning takes that assessment and organizes each piece so every day runs smoothly and everything gets accomplished. Schedule management reinforces and expands thinking and planning, but it also allows for necessary adjustments and builds flexibility into your success formula.

How well is your mind working these days? Do you feel clear and focused, or are you foggy and forgetful? The mind’s ability to function well is impacted by many factors. Sleep, nutrition, quiet moments in your day, and physical exercise all contribute to a healthy mind. Daily Bible study and prayer also give you grounding and centering that helps align your thoughts and plans. If you are missing the mark on any one of these, your mind’s ability to operate effectively can be negatively impacted; if you are short on two or more, you might find yourself experiencing lapses in memory, depression, anxiety, and mood swings. These can all damage your capacity to care and put those you care for at risk. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you succeed at caring for others?

Small changes in your lifestyle can make huge improvements in your mental health. Just choose one of the areas above and decide to do one thing every day to make improvements. For sleep, try going to bed at the same time every day. For nutrition, try increasing fruits and veggies in your diet, or simply drink more water in your day. If exercise is your target, start with a short walk every day. Take time out every day to breathe. Choose an online Bible study to follow or get up 15 minutes earlier and begin your day with prayer. All of these actions are small, but just begin with one. After a week or two, add another. Before you know it, you will be feeling like a new caregiver!

Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how you keep your mental ability healthy.

Be Fit to be a Caregiver

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First, the disclaimer. I’m not a doctor, a nutritionist, or an exercise physiologist. I’m not a personal trainer, and my only expertise in sharing what I do today is born of personal experience. I do believe in Newton’s Law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. And that’s not a good way to live (at rest, that is) if we want to be productive and change the world for ourselves or someone that we love and care for, right? So, here goes…

The experts tell us we are nothing without our health, but what does that really mean? I know lots of people who struggle with chronic health conditions, but they manage to live satisfying, productive lives and are active in both their church and community. But here’s the thing: in order to live any life of quality, we all must do certain things regularly to keep our bodies in good working shape.

Family caregivers have many challenges in their role of giving care to others. As the years pass by, time takes its toll on us physically and in many other ways as well. In order to be fully equipped to care for aging family members, we must keep ourselves as strong and fit as possible. Over the next several weeks we’ll discuss how to improve our fitness physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Don’t be intimidated by this opportunity…be honest with yourself about where you are now and think about where you’d like to be by this time next year. It’s all in your hands!

First, let’s consider your physical health. This takes in many factors, and the first one is how often you see your doctor. We should all have a check-up at least once a year to monitor basic indicators like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other factors. These numbers are like the dashboard lights on your car; when something lights up, your doctor can know what service is needed.

Next, how active is your lifestyle? A couple of years ago I had a health issue that sent me to the hospital for a brief stay. I had embarked on a personal fitness journey 8 months earlier (after checking in with my doctor to make sure I could do this safely, because it’s always good to do this first) that resulted in my losing nearly 50 lbs. and greatly increasing my energy level and strength. By doing some kind of sweaty exercise at least 30 minutes every day and eating healthy 80% of the time, I made great progress toward my physical fitness goals, and my doctor was thrilled with this.

I didn’t start out this practice at full throttle. In fact, every day in the beginning I had to pray for the energy to get started. I dreaded every workout, but I went anyway. I started by walking on a treadmill every day at the gym. It was winter, so outdoor walks weren’t really an option. Over time I increased my speed and incline, and even started to run a little. Next, I moved to the elliptical machine. At first, I could only do ten minutes on this monster, but after a while I could do thirty minutes or more, and what a great workout! I also incorporated yoga, swimming, biking, weights, and racquetball into my workouts as my strength and stamina improved. As the weather warmed, outdoor walks and bike rides were invigorating. (Racquetball was my favorite, but in my late 50’s my arthritic knees don’t really like this sport anymore.)

This lifestyle became my fitness motto, and even when I was hospitalized, I asked Chris to bring my yoga mat so I could at least do stretches. The improvement to my health alone was worth the effort, but every other aspect of my life also benefitted from this change in my daily routine.

Another important element of my journey was my cheerleader, Chris. My husband was a constant encouragement to me, offering love and support along the way. He even got inspired to make some changes to his routines, and today he works out harder than I do. Having an accountability partner is most helpful when you undertake any lifestyle change. Shifting routines that have been built over many decades takes dedication, focus, and courage, but the benefits far outweigh the initial discomforts. 

Wherever you are in your caregiver journey, Chris and I invite you to join us on a walk over the next few weeks to achieve improved fitness levels in all these areas of your life. You may find you are a better family caregiver because of it. 

We also hope you’ll join us in the comments below and share your heart about fitness in general.

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.