If the person you care for misses their faith community or wants spiritual guidance, you can help
Posted in , Nov 13, 2018
Julie Hayes is the Editorial Assistant at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.
If you’re caring for a loved one, it’s natural to focus on their physical health. That’s the top priority. As you manage those responsibilities, it can often be easy to forget that spiritual health can also contribute to their satisfaction and wellbeing.
When people age, they often face spiritual concerns about the value of the life they have lived and facing their own mortality. Sometimes, illness or mobility issues make it impossible for them to attend religious services and participate in the religious rituals that matter to them.
If the person you care for misses their faith community or wants spiritual guidance, you can help. You don’t have to be a religious leader yourself to help them.
1. Make Prayer and Scripture a Part of Daily Routines
Studies show that older adults take comfort and strength in remaining connected to their faith through regular prayer and scripture readings. Praying and reading scripture can also help both caregivers and their loved ones manage anxiety, depression and stress (Carr, T., Hicks-Moore, S., & Montgomery, P. (2011). What’s so big about the “little things”: A phenomenological inquiry into the meaning of spiritual care in dementia. Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 10(3), 399–414). For those with dementia, taking part in faith-based rituals, and the familiar words of scripture and prayer, may help them connect to past memories associated with their faith.
2. Ask Your Faith Community for Help
If your family member can’t join worship with the faith community, try bringing members of the faith community to them. Many churches offer home and hospital visits to members who are unable to attend services. Most can arrange for prayers to be read within the service on behalf of you and your loved one. Some even offer recordings, podcasts or online streams of religious services. If you’re not sure if the house of worship offers those options, check their website or give them a call to find out.
3. Find Activities Nearby
If you and your loved one are feeling isolated, there is no better place to start looking for ways to connect than your own community. Some churches, local libraries and Area Agencies on Aging hold special events for older adults such as choir performances, Bible groups and socials. Do some research and find out what activities you and your loved one might be able to participate in together.
4. Let Your Loved One Talk About Their Spiritual Concerns
Your loved one may come to you with difficult questions on life, death, and loss of hope. When you are juggling many responsibilities, it may seem easier to offer a quick reassurance to these questions, but giving a thought-out, genuine answer is more likely to contribute to your loved one’s happiness and peace of mind. However, it is important to be clear when a question is too emotionally difficult for you to answer. If you’re struggling with that issue, too, just say gently that it’s an important question, but you’re just not able to talk about it right now. You need to prioritize your own emotional health, too.
If you are ever in need of more support, remember that other members of your faith community can be a valuable resource. Others may be in a similar situation to you and may be able to offer help based on their own caregiving experiences.