NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Too often church members are hesitant to provide support for people who are primary caregivers to an elderly parent or a special needs child, usually because they don’t know what to do.
Carmen Leal, author of “The Twenty-Third Psalm for Caregivers,” noted various ways churches can support the growing numbers of caregivers in LifeWay Research’s e-mail newsletter Insights on Dec. 1:
— Assume that most caregivers won’t ask for help.
“Instead, have a plan in action to find out if basic needs are being met due to the onslaught of medical bills and the possible loss of income,” Leal wrote. “Suggest that the church benevolence fund can offer limited help and guide the caregiver through the application process.”
— Find the caregiver an advocate within the church. Leal noted that many people in a church won’t have the experience or skill set to establish a “ministry” for caregivers, but they could advocate for one person.
“This person can help the caregiver access resources inside and outside the church such as helping him or her connect with a Bible study group or finding local community assistance programs such as the Salvation Army and the United Way that might help pay for items such as utilities, groceries, and other needs,” she wrote.
It’s important, Leal said, for a person in the advocate role to work hard at keeping the caregiver connected with others in the church rather than taking on all of the needs of the caregiver.
“In taking on too much personally, it would be very easy for the advocate to become overwhelmed and then to simply drop out of the picture for the caregiver — potentially doing more harm than good,” Leal wrote.
— Create a church culture that “finds a need then meets it.”
“After David’s diagnosis doctors suggested a 5,000-calorie a day diet to help with his rapid weight loss,” Leal wrote of her husband’s battle with a neurodegenerative disease. “His loss of swallowing ability led to a feeding tube and the need for supplements such as Ensure or Boost. The best thing my home church did before we moved was to set up an opportunity for members to bring six packs or cases of Ensure to church for us.
“Others clipped coupons to help defray the cost of purchasing Ensure. This simple act of kindness kept David alive and allowed me to use our money to buy groceries for growing teens,” Leal said.
— Track resources that are available to families in financial need.
Church members with an interest in ministering to caregivers should be familiar with resources that offer free or reduced cost prescription drugs, vision and dental care, Leal said. Such resources include pharmaceutical patient assistance programs such as RX Assist or NeedyMeds.org and vision assistance programs such as Vision USA or Eye Care America.
“Be aware of the caregiver’s ever-shrinking world and make calls and visits,” Leal also wrote. “There are also many communities online so the caregiver can connect with others.”
Other advice Leal offered includes helping caregivers learn about where to find free or inexpensive household items such as Habitat Resources or freecycle.org. Also, help caregivers learn more about the diseases they are dealing with, such as by directing them to the National Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society or another applicable group.
— Provide an old computer and basic computer skills.
If caregivers don’t have a computer, there may be a church member who has upgraded their equipment and would be willing to donate their old desktop or laptop to a homebound caregiver needing online support, Leal said.
Perhaps most importantly, Leal said, churches should not overlook the spiritual needs of a caregiver or of the one needing the care. Personal visits and prayer are the minimum a caregiver should expect from their faith community, she noted, and one of the most crucial matters to address is whether the person in need is trusting Jesus for salvation.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.