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Seek God's Help Caring for Aging Loved Ones

  • Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
  • 2002 8 Aug
Seek God's Help Caring for Aging Loved Ones
Between infancy and our elder years, we can buy into the illusion that we're somehow self-sufficient. Those who spend their time caring for elderly relatives and friends, however, know that no one can journey through life without the help of others.

Adult children see the once-strong hands of a parent - the same hands that cradled them as babies - now shake with age. As they hold those hands to help their mom or dad walk, they experience the reality of independence ebbing away, as it will eventually for them, too.

It's in such moments that relationships can gain a new sense of preciousness and draw people closer together and to God. But when the moments turn into much longer spans of time, stress can exhaust caregivers and depress the elderly people for whom they care.

If you're caring for an elderly family member or friend, God will help you. Here are some principles to keep in mind as a caregiver:

  • Don't try to go it alone. No matter what the level of help your loved one needs - from simple tasks such as transportation for errands and help paying bills to complicated ones such as directing medical care and taking over power of attorney - you need other people to join you in the effort. Find out about all the resources available to help you by calling your loved one's local Area Agency on Aging and take full advantage of them. Enlist help from family members, friends, and professionals. Accept the fact that you have limitations and don't feel guilty about asking for help, such as respite care that will provide healthy breaks from constant responsibility. Take care of your own needs by getting adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Remember that God intends us to live in community with others and share each other's burdens.

  • Strive to honor your loved one in all you do. If your relationship with your elder is strained, pray for God to help you forgive ways he or she might have hurt you in the past, and to give you the grace you need to interact with him or her in love. Treat your elder with dignity and respect.

  • Listen well to your loved one and let him or her make decisions as much as possible rather than simply making them yourself.

  • Encourage your elder to be as active as possible. Plan activities that foster spiritual, mental, and physical stimulation, such as church participation, cultural activities, and exercise. Talk and pray with your loved one often.

  • Record your loved one's memories for posterity.

  • Be patient with your elder's emotional challenges. Realize that age brings many losses into people's lives, each of which elderly people need to grieve. Understand that frustration and complaints often spring from hurting hearts and not from malice.

  • Recognize your loved one's skills and encourage him or her to use them as much as possible through volunteer work. Remember that even a bedridden person can intercede in prayer for others.

  • If your elder suffers from dementia, try singing songs and telling stories. Some people with dementia can still remember songs and details from long ago.

  • Make plans in advance that detail how your loved one would like his or her medical care and estate handled. Consider such issues as the extent of medical care your elder would like or not like to prolong life, funeral plans, and a will. Agree on who will receive the power to carry out these decisions (either yourself or another caregiver) if your elder can no longer do so. When making plans, consult professionals for advice, such as an elder law attorney and a certified public accountant.

  • Encourage your loved one to purchase long-term care insurance that will pay for assisted living and nursing home costs should they become necessary. Realize that Medicare and Medicaid often will not pay for these services, which are very expensive.

  • Ask God give you clarity and peace when deciding whether or not to move your elder out of a private home (your elder's or your own) into an assisted living or nursing home facility. Remember that the best thing for your elder is to receive the proper level of care, and sometimes that's beyond what you can provide yourself. Don't torment yourself with guilt if you know you're giving your elder the best care possible. If your elder moves to a facility, visit often.

  • Thoroughly research any professional caregivers who come to care for your loved one in a private home, and any assisted living or nursing home facility you're considering.

  • If you suspect your elder is being abused or neglected, immediately alert your local adult protective services agency. Encourage your elder to make and maintain friends so he or she will have a support network on which to rely.

  • Help your loved one avoid becoming a victim of fraud, in ways such as sticking to a detailed financial plan, hanging up on callers he or she doesn't know, researching charities before donating anything, and getting home repair estimates in writing and never prepaying for them.

  • If you're providing care for your elder from a long distance away, consider hiring a professional case manager who lives in your elder's local area and can help arrange all the details of his or her care.

Adapted from Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones, copyright 2002 by Focus on the Family. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Ill., www.tyndale.com, 1-800-323-9400.

Contributors to this book include: Jane Terry, director of the Focus Over Fifty ministry at Focus on the Family; Ron Blue, founder of one of largest CPA firms in the United States and author of numerous books on finances; Dr. Bill Maier, vice-president, psychologist in residence at Focus on the Family; Margaret Cottle, M.D., a palliative care physician and a clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada; and Terry Parker, a regular speaker on law issues and a senior member of the Atlanta law firm, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.

If you're a caregiver, how are you currently helping to care for an elderly loved one? What challenges and rewards have you encountered while doing so? How has the experience helped you grow closer to God, and also to the person for whom you're caring? What encouragement would you like to offer other caregivers? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.

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