Taking care of our seniors as a community

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Look around your congregation and you might notice a growing number of senior citizens. As congregations grow in number all generations are now represented in each one. This is a wonderful development.

But just as needs arose and we developed ministries such as camps for children and teens, we now, as a Body, need to think of ways to care for our older members. So far, little has been done to find a suitable solution to help our aging members. Many live alone, without family members to help them, and on a very low National Insurance income.

The available facilities for the elderly are either very expensive or crowded. In most, the conditions are not very people friendly, and certainly not spiritual enriching, except for the Ebenezer home, which is exceptional.

However, not everyone lives in the vicinity of Haifa, and many would prefer to stay close to their known surroundings, their congregation and their friends. They also would like to stay independent as long as possible. With this in mind, I looked for alternatives and ways in which the local Body could care for each member.

Here are some ideas I came up with:

Adopt a “grandparent”

A family or single person could build a relationship with a senior in their community by checking in on him or her. (Since women are usually the ones reaching out and often the elderly are single women, I will write this article in the feminine form. Of course, these ideas could apply as well to men.) During a visit, over a drink, you can find out the needs of the older person.

You might want to find out the following:

*Is she happy living alone?

*Does she have family members to rely on?

*What does she find hard to deal with?

*What does she like to do or is able to do?

* Can she speak and read Hebrew?

* Does she need transportation to go shopping, or to go to a home group or doctor appointments?

* Does she need help with translating or dealing with legal paperwork?

* Does she have difficulty cooking?

* Does she need to safe proof her home or have a need for small repair jobs?

By inviting the older sister for an occasional meal or just calling her once in a while, a relationship will develop, which can benefit both sides. You could encourage her to feel at home, and partake in family activities or visit her regularly and take her out.

The older person could perhaps help the busy family once in a while with babysitting, playing games with the children, folding laundry or washing the dishes thereby relieving the workload of the mom and building relationship.

Some of these activities require time and expense. This expense should be covered by the elderly person herself, or perhaps a congregation or another family could help. This could give a person some extra work, or a chore for a teenager.

Romans 12:1-13 contains the practical guidelines to follow: Verses 4 to 5 emphasize the fact that we are one body, with many diverse members. And in verse 10 it says to be devoted to each other in brotherly love.

One should not feel it has to be a one-sided situation that might be a “burden” for a willing helper. If the older sister needs regular rides or cleaning, which you are willing to provide, and she has enough money to pay, you could agree to have her cover expenses for supplies or gasoline. This will make her not feel as if she is imposing on you, or cause her not to dare to ask for help.

It is also sometimes a good idea to set boundaries.

If a senior owns a car, but cannot really afford driving it, she could offer to take several other sisters shopping, who would help cover toward her car expenses. They could also visit places together which would give them companionship and combine their strengths.

Sharing meals as a pot-luck dinner gives variety to the grandparent’s menu and motivates her to partake in activities. I know a group of single seniors who meets regularly during the week to either pray for different needs or study the Bible together. Afterward they share a meal.

Share your home

Some years ago, we invited a sister, to live with us for a while. She became part of our family and functioned as the grandmother for our children while growing up. She played card games with our boys and meanwhile would talk to them about things important to them. She developed a special relationship of trust with them. Our children are grown up now, but still call her grandma, and relate to her as such.

Not everyone can do this, but by living in closer proximity and perhaps renting the apartment next door, or a place on the same street, even the smaller children can visit their adopted “safta.” (grandmother in Hebrew)

Assist each other as neighbors

Here are a few examples:

* An older sister rented an apartment alone, and had no one close to call on in time of need. We prayed for another sister to move in next door and God answered our prayers!

*We had two elderly sisters share an apartment next to us. When one became very needy, and unable to care for herself, we signed her up for government help and organized volunteer help among the sisters. We adjusted her home and acquired medical equipment, thus enabling her to stay home until she went to be with the Lord. By simply functioning like a family, we could care for her in her time of need.

*Now we have a sister who has no family here, but lives alone. She is almost blind, has trouble walking, cannot cook any longer nor read books. Although National Insurance pays some hours of help, it is not enough to make her feel safe and cared for.

Ideas to help her:

*Look for someone to live with her, perhaps an hourly worker or a volunteer.

*Friends and neighbors can cook extra and share with her.

*Make sure her house is safe without too many obstacles, such as loose mats.

*Install handle bars in the bathroom and bright lights everywhere.

*Help her buy special aids for the blind such as a talking phone and clock with large numbers, and a walking stick

*Download books on a disk or read to her.

*Take her different places or invite her for dinner.

Shared senior living

When living alone is no longer possible because it becomes too expensive, too unsafe or lonely, another solution has to be found for our seniors. Most do not like the available senior care facilities. They would prefer to live more private lives, with their own belongings surrounding them. In short, they want to stay at home.

A modern alternative is to share a house or an apartment. This is called an adult family home where two or three single elderly people share a rental house or apartment. An important factor is to look for a ground floor apartment near public transportation.

Living together, sharing expenses and sharing chores has many benefits. It enables the seniors to upgrade their environment by looking for a larger facility in a better neighborhood.

In addition to a shared living room and kitchen, look for a roomy bedroom for each with space for a private sitting corner and preferably connected to a private bathroom.

Shared living is not always easy. It requires maturity and depth of spirit. But it can definitely be safer.

I realize every person’s circumstances are different, but the principles could be applied with adjustments

My goal is for us all to learn to be more involved with each other, be sensitive to each other’s needs, and help each other, thus becoming a functional body, which, I believe, will give glory to God.