Bishop Philip Weeks is a friend who is caring for his wife who has dementia. The following email was sent to help churches understand what they can do to help those who are at home caring for family members.
Last Thursday Dr. Silverman from the Central Virginia Area Agency on Aging met with several concerned persons regarding what this organization might do to better serve the growing homebound in the Lynchburg area, especially those with Dementia and other home bound illnesses. I was one of those invited, and in my capacity seeking to involve area churches in their ministry to parishioners who once were the supporters and builders of their church, but now incapacitated and home bound. Sometime forgotten!
We plan to have a seminar to which caregivers may attend, and others, to discover answers and support to the burden they must now bear. The Church must be an involved part of training and ministering to those who no longer can function in society. I will keep you informed.
I welcome comments, suggestions, and supportive response that may be helpful to caregivers. I am available to speak to groups interested in learning about caregiving.
What are some things churches can do to assist caregivers or those who are alone in their homes?
Some of these may already be done by your church. If not, it could be a consideration.
1 – Telephone committee. For those shut-in, homebound parishioners without family members, a committee of the laity would put together a list, divided among committed members who will place a phone call each morning to the home bound parishioner. A friendly call to ascertain how they slept, if any needs they have, perhaps pray with them, but most importantly, is to make sure they didn’t die during the night.
2 – Shopping committee. Some homebound people may not be able to go to the grocery and have no family members to do shopping for them. This may also include pharmaceutical items to be picked up.
3 – Visitation committee. Not everyone may be comfortable making visits, but those who do like to visit could have a list of shut-ins to be visited periodically.
4 – Church services be recorded and a tape player provided the home bound parishioner. The visitor would deliver the tape of the previous Sunday’s service for them to listen to in their home, or mail the tape once the player has been delivered and the parishioner shown how to operate it.
5 – Greeting card – Quarterly or on special occasion such as birthday, a greeting card mailed to the home bound parishioner assuring them they have not been forgotten.
6 – Special meals – We have agencies to give the needy a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. On special occasions, or a monthly routine, a good meal prepared and delivered. Some elderly people do not eat properly and this could be a certainty that at least once a month they got a well-balanced meal.
7 – House Assistance – The physical condition will determine whether or not assistance with house cleaning and basic laundry would be needed. Finances is a major problem for many caregivers and volunteer help in housekeeping can be a major blessing when either they cannot do it, or afford to pay a cleaning service to come in.
8 – Female parishioners would definitely appreciate floral remembrances at Valentine, Easter, Christmas and birthdays.
9 – Mail a Church bulletin each week so they are informed about announcements, the Order of Worship, and other details made known to those who are able to attend church services.
10 – Churches in which the Sacrament of Holy Communion is regularly celebrated should also include the home bound parishioner with a minimum of a monthly visit by the Clergy person delivering the Sacrament to them.
11– I was in the Philippines and awakened one morning with people singing “Happy Birthday” to an elderly man living next to where I was staying. People from his church came to sing to him. We have people go caroling at Christmas. What about a serenade from young people on a special occasion — like a birthday?
There are possible reasons why people with dementia are low on the visitation list.
1- uncomfortable in trying to communicate
2- realization of one’s own aging and fear of having the same illness
3- inability to deal with the fact of death, and this is especially applicable to children of aging parents
4- too busy with other interests
5- out of sight; out of mind
6- Ignorance – fear of “catching it”
7- denial that anything is wrong
These may apply to other illnesses as well. There was a time past when you did not talk about a person’s cancer. That is no longer taboo. Whether the person with dementia is aware of visits or expressions of concern, such attention is most valuable to the family caregiver who lives with the circumstance 24/7. In most cases the help one gets in caregiving you pay for it. Nursing homes are costly. Home Instead and Generation Solutions are terribly expensive. For 12 hours a day home care for my wife last year cost me $51,842.61. And I got off “cheap” comparatively speaking. The agency through which I get my Care Providers is known only by “word of mouth”. Low overhead; no advertising! Medicare does not pay. Most long term health policies do not pay for home care.
With considerable discreet investigation, it may be a special discretionary budget item for a church to provide financial assistance to caregivers who are not prepared to meet the financial requirements of taking care of a loved one. That’s called Home Missions. One concern often expressed to me from caregivers is that they don’t run out of money before their loved one and they both die.
While the family should be the first line of help, but often not, the church should be the second line of defense. After all, Jesus taught that what we do for others (“the least of these”) we are doing it as to Him.
My book, “Living With Dementia – A Caregiver’s Journey” may be helpful both for those who are dealing with this illness, and for those who wish to minister to families dealing with this illness.
Bishop Philip E. P. Weeks
Bishop in The Charismatic Episcopal Church, Retired
Philippians 4: 19
208 Leewood Drive, Lynchburg, VA 24503