Think of the older members in your own parish who depend on a spouse or adult child to serve as a caregiver. The wife, setting aside her own health challenges, takes her husband to doctors’ appointments and watches every step he takes to make sure he doesn’t fall. The daughter, married and working full-time, who prepares her mother’s dinners, takes her shopping, arranges for chores to be completed and frets about Mom being home alone during the day. The husband, who feeds and bathes his wife because she has forgotten how to do these tasks.
A 2015 AARP report estimated that nearly 40 million Americans – about 16.6 percent of the population – were caring for an adult in the prior 12 months; approximately 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult 50 years or older during that time period. These caregivers, on average, spend 24.4 hours a week providing care to their loved ones; nearly one-quarter of the caregivers provide 41 or more hours of care a week.
“It is no surprise that caregivers are becoming overwhelmed,” Faith Community Nurse Jennifer Hildebrand says in the April issue of Genesis Health Ministry News. “As a result of decreased available funding, strict Medicare guidelines for services, and increasing costs of assisted living and longtime care, more folks are opting to care for their elderly family members at home.”
Jennifer sees a huge need for a program called Congregational Health Promoter, which trains volunteers in parishes to be the eyes and ears of the parish. These aren’t people with expertise in the health care field, but people like you and me – laity, clergy and religious. We can be trained to identify big red flags, such as too much uneaten food in an individual’s refrigerator, prescriptions that haven’t been filled in months, cancelled doctors’ appointments because the person can’t drive.
She envisions an interdenominational partnership of parish nurses, social justice advocates, pastors and people in the pews collaborating to be better servants to our aging population. Jennifer raises a point worth pondering: How can we help people to be able to stay in their homes longer, enhancing their quality of life? If you’d like to help address that question, call Jennifer at (563) 421-5513 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before you say to yourself, I just don’t have extra time to spare, think about giving time as a gift of self during this Year of Mercy. Offer to sit with someone receiving care while the spouse or adult child goes to Mass or shopping. Be willing to simply be present, to listen to someone else’s story. Sometimes health problems are related to loneliness and isolation.
One caregiver sings the praises of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport for what she describes as a visitor’s program and encourages other parishes to do the same. “Even a five-minute visit breaks up the day for an individual who is homebound,” the caregiver said. Patty Riefe, parish nurse for Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf, said both of the parishes she serves, and many others, offer some element of visiting people who are homebound, in the hospital or nursing home. “This is a way to help individuals in their homes feel connected, to be part of their church.”
Now parishes need to step up the effort to recruit more volunteers to be visitors. “Within a family, within a parish, within a diocese, there are men and women who are not the person needing care, who are not the primary caregivers, but who are called to be of service to both,” observes Friends of St. John the Caregiver (FSJC). The international Catholic organization was created to address the growing needs of family caregivers and has collected a terrific list of topics and resources that deserve our time and attention. For spirituality, information and resources for individual caregivers, visit the website: www.YourAgingParent.com. For training and educational material for dioceses and parishes, visit the website: www.CatholicCaregivers.com. For information about St. John the Caregiver, visit www.FSJC.org.
Individually and collectively we can make a difference. Even if it’s just a five-minute visit.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor