The Administration for Community Living designates May as Older Americans Month. This year's theme is "Age Out Loud," a commitment to listening to what the older generation has to say. ACL recommends taking time this month to listen to the stories of your parents, grandparents and other elderly members of the community who often get overlooked as they age.
Retirement today isn't about staying home and relaxing or moving into a nursing home due to bad health. Seniors are living better than ever before, many working well past retirement age to stay productive and connected. Faith, religion and spirituality are vital concepts to a person's well-being and health. The rituals of faith are comforting and uplifting.
Many seniors are connected to others through the church, synagogue or mosque. When the ability to get to services is affected, it can be debilitating to their welfare and happiness. About 5.2 million older Americans suffer from dementia, in which they lose memories of the present. Maintaining a link with the religion they grew up with can increase a sense of well-being for these individuals.
What Can the Church Do to Encourage Seniors?
America's population is living longer. About 14.5 percent of the population is over 65, and ACL estimates that by 2040, this figure will be closer to 21.7 percent. Today's churches need to address the elderly members of the church. In May, consider how your church is meeting the needs of seniors in your faith and in the community. Here are some ideas from the United Methodist Church:
- Offer caregiving respite services for children of aging parents or for seniors who need help with certain activities. If a senior has problems driving, find ways to get the person to religious services, the doctor or the grocery store.
- Provide opportunities for seniors to share knowledge and wisdom with the younger generation. Connect young people, especially those without extended family members, to seniors to foster relationships between the ages.
- Help older adults with home maintenance or repairs. Church members may not have to actually do any work, just make sure that older adults have reputable contractors to get the work done.
- Find ways to include homebound seniors in Sunday school through technology. Could you offer a live feed service through a web cam or speakerphone?
- Do you have resources and materials for seniors? Are your bulletins printed so that older eyes can read the information? Are the hymnals offered in large print?
- Could your church go into a nursing home once a month to offer faith-based classes and services to seniors who cannot get out?
- What ministries does your church have for seniors? Could you provide low-impact aerobics, yoga or other classes during the day for older adults?
- Many seniors have a hard time keeping up with technology. Maybe younger adults could partner with seniors to provide training on using financial services or social networks. A coaching ministry would benefit a lot of people, and provide opportunities for younger adults to teach and gain confidence themselves.
- Offer resources to help dementia patients in worship. A person with dementia cannot handle long, drawn out activities. Maybe have a simplified service once a month for caregivers and their loved ones.
- Assess your church's facilities to make sure the building is accessible and safe for elderly members. Make adaptations to encourage inclusion instead of expecting seniors to just accept what is.
Older adults still have a lot to offer the church, and the church needs to be aware of the needs of this special population. Let's take some time during Older Americans Month to evaluate how the church is relating to the seniors in the congregation.