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Ask Deborah: Supporting Caregivers
May 29, 2012

QUESTION: We have a number of caregivers in our congregation, and our health committee would like to know how to be helpful to them. Can you give us some ideas?

ANSWER: As you have stated, there is true need for such support to caregivers. According to “Caregiving in the United States,” a 2009 study done by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with the AARP:

  • More than 65 million Americans (29 percent of the population) provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year
  • Caregivers spend an average of twenty hours per week providing care for their loved one
  • 13 percent of caregivers provide more than forty hours of care a week
  • 51percent of care recipients live in their own home and 29 percent with their family caregiver.
  • The typical family caregiver is a married and employed 49-year-old woman, caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her.
  • Approximately 66 percent of family caregivers are women, and 7 out of 10 are over fifty years old.
  • More than 37 percent have children or grandchildren under the age of 18 living with them, and 14 percent of family caregivers care for a special needs child.

Data from National Family Caregivers Association. 

So the caregivers in your church are busy, and they are tired, and the statistics above don’t even mention the financial stress these family caregivers may live with. You need to provide programs with proven success records that will give them tools to make their busy, stressed lives easier.

One such program is Powerful Tools for Caregivers, an evidence-based program based on the groundwork laid by Dr. Kate Lorig, et al. at Stanford University through their Chronic Disease Self-Management Program. This program focuses on stress management, communications skills, and skills for navigating through difficult decisions. Organizations in more than thirty states now offer this program, and you can see if there is already a program being offered in your area here. If not, you might consider becoming a trainer for this program. Grant funding is often available to implement this program, so do inquire of local funders for help.

One great service your congregation could provide to caregivers would be to have a two-hour resource fair with a lunch in between. From 11:00 to noon have someone come in and talk about all the resources available for support and respite to family caregivers of seniors, enjoy a meal at noon, and after lunch have someone talk about the resources available for support and respite to family caregivers of special needs children and younger adults with disabilities. That way everyone could be together for lunch, but no one would need to stay for the whole event.

Good places to look for speakers on the topic of senior caregivers would be:

  • Your local Area Agency on Aging through this website. Your local AAA may have another name than “Area Agency on Aging.”
  • Gerontologists and other senior service providers
  • Education department of your local hospital
  • Social work or psychology department of local university

Good places to look for speakers on the topic of special needs children/disabled younger adults would be:

Pastoral care to caregivers is hugely important, and the entire church can help support a family in a variety of ways:

  • Send over frozen meals to be used at the family's convenience, or arrange ahead to deliver a ready-to-serve meal.
  • Equip trained congregational members to serve as respite providers to sit with the family member and give the caregiver a break.
  • Make short phone calls to bring a word of encouragement. Short visits (please arrange in advance) may also be appreciated.
  • Regular notes of support for both family member and caregiver would also be greatly appreciated. You can also stay in touch by e-mail.
  • Last, but not least, promise to hold them in prayer.

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