Sunday, October 31, 2010

Your Aging Parent Can't Attend Church? Tips to Foster Her Spiritual Health

Perhaps in days gone by your aging parent faithfully attended church. His or her devotion to God leavened every part of life: from praying and reading scripture, to visiting the sick, to serving and giving financially to the church or synagogue.

Today health issues may make church attendance impossible. Yet there are other ways to encourage your aging parent in his or her walk with God. Everyone is different, though, so I suggest you ask your parent, "How would you like to try ...?" before proceeding with any of the following ideas.

Some I've used some with my own parents. Other ideas come from adult children in the retirement and nursing homes where I've worked.

1. Your aging parent needs spiritual community. Worshiping God doesn't usually occur in a vacuum. If your parent has a connection with a congregation, a minister may arrange person in-home visits. Catholic parishes often train lay eucharistic ministers to take communion to the elderly. If your parent lives in an assisted living or nursing home, check into scheduled worship services, Bible studies or rosary groups.

2. Your aging parent needs inspiration. For many, the comforting words of the Bible are an anchor of hope in the midst of pain and suffering. When Daddy was struggling with Parkinson's in a nursing home halfway across the country, our family recorded his favorite Scripture verses. He enjoyed listening as our voices read those familiar, beautiful words. Other sources of inspiration for your aging parent are large print copies of devotional and inspirational magazines including, "The Upper Room," and "Guideposts." Inspirational DVDs, radio and television programs can also help fill the spiritual gap.

3. Your aging parent may need to be needed. Does that sound funny? As a retired minister, my dad wanted to continue to serve, even though his body didn't always cooperate. The Nurse Manager on the night shift called him when other residents showed anxiety. His prayers had a calming affect. Depending on your parent's physical and mental condition, his or her spiritual gifts may range from a thank-you note to a pastor, to a get-well-card to a friend who is hospitalized, to a hug and a knowing smile that says, without words, "God is here." And don't forget their prayers. My parents prayed for me and my family daily, and I was blessed.

4. Your aging parent may surprise you. Sometimes dormant faith springs to new life when nurtured, even in an older person. The mother of a friend was very religious in her early years, but shelved her faith in mid-life. Not long ago, at the invitation of a friend, she began attending church once again, exhibiting newfound fervor. "God works in mysterious ways," my friend says.

How have you endeavored to support your parent spiritually?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Suffering From 'Compassion Fatigue'? Here's Help

Do any of these sound like you?

1. Your aging parent's needs are ballooning, and your patience and energy are eroding.
2. When the phone rings past 10 pm, your blood pressure spikes, and your first thought is, "Is Mom OK?"
3. As a professional working with elderly clients and their families, your day is often punctuated by crises.

Can you relate? If so, you're at risk for stress overload, also known as caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue. The good things you do for your parents--or your clients--may be great for them but bad for you when done in excess, setting you up for illness.

How do you combat burnout? Rob Luck, Director of Social Services and Special Programs for Providence Hospice of Seattle, addressed this earlier this year at Seattle Senior Care Coalition, a group of professionals serving seniors and their families. He offered these suggestions.

1. Maintain boundaries. The Bible says it this way: "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no.' Set limits on your time, your work, your thoughts to keep balance in your life.
2. Create a written plan of care for yourself. Luck suggests we develop a personal mission state which includes four or five key values, such as intimacy, self care, spirituality, etc. For each value, plan daily activities. Exercising at the gym and scheduling doctor's appointments fall under self-care. Spending time with a spouse and children go under intimacy. For more help with mission statements, see Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
3. Foster some sort of spiritual center, however you define it. Luck says that tapping into something bigger than ourselves will give us strength to work for our parents and still keep other parts of our lives intact. "The work we do (with our parents and our clients) is sacred," says Luck. "But so is caring for ourselves."

Do you have any suggestions for avoiding burnout?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Your Aging Parent Has Two Developmental Tasks

A toddler's "No!", a teen's rebellion, and your aging parent's attempts at control are all related to developmental tasks we tackle at key stages in life.

David Solie's well-written book, How to Say It to Seniors, discusses two main tasks of elders that are at once conflicting and potentially frustrating to us. Understanding our parents' developmental challenges, he says, will enable us to improve our communication and our relationship.

Your parent's first goal, says Solie, is to maintain as much control as possible, in the face of a litany of losses: of physical strength, friends and financial status, to name a few. Piled on top of each other, these losses often prompt him to cry, "No!" in toddler-style, figuratively stamping his feet, even to ideas that seem reasonable. Meanwhile our developmental agenda compels us to get things done, make decisions and act on them. As Solie says, "Our drivers can clash with theirs that compel them to hang on tight and to reflect."

The best tact is to avoid power struggles and to go with our parents' wishes whenever possible. If they are firm about wanting to stay in their home, for example, we may need to orchestrate an array of services to make that happen. Assuming that's possible.

Sometimes just giving our parents space and grace will enable them to make an informed decision that's right for them. Not long ago I met a 90-year-old woman who struggled with hoarding. Her home and furnishings were growing mold, with possessions and paper piled everywhere.

"By winter the house won't be inhabitable," her son said. Another issue: her failing memory. But Mom dug in her heels when he mentioned moving. A few months later, given time, patience and numerous visits, she called me: "I've decided to move into the apartment you offered."

Your parent's second developmental task is to preserve a legacy. "Every day, every hour, whether they mention it or not, the seventy-plus age group is reviewing their lives," Solie says. Consciously and unconsciously, they ponder how and by whom they would like to remembered. They repeat the same stories again and again in great detail, not so much for the facts as for the inherent values. And they often take a long time to make a decision.

Solie's biggest piece of advice is so listen to our parents. Really listen. If we do, we may pick up on what values they cherish. We may have the opportunity to watch the unveiling of a legacy right before our eyes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eldercare Blog Celebrates the Big 50--Posts, That Is

Whoo Hoo! On September 27, Boomer's Guide to Eldercare passed the 50-post mark.

I started in February with one goal--to provide help and hope to Boomers as they relate to their aging parents. This first "season," if you will, has stretched my mind as I've researched, interviewed experts and tapped into my 14-plus years in the eldercare field.

But blogging isn't about me. It's about you and your needs for help as you care for your aging parent.

According to Google Analytics, your favorite posts are:

1. How to Sell Your Parent's Home in Seven Days

2. Help! I've Lost My Way Searching for a Place for Mom

3. Three Kinds of In-Home Care

4. Can Your Parent be Happy in a Nursing Home?

5. Eldercare Dilemma: In My Aging Parent's Eyes, I've Failed

Check them out, if you haven't read them yet.

Got any ideas for further topics? I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, I'm ready to tackle another go-around: learning about how to understand our aging parents and ourselves, how to better communicate, and how to advocate.
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