This past week, I spent a lot time attending presentations and workshops at the 2019 Aging in America Conference that was held in New Orleans. I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the growing demographic, solo agers. Those of us who live alone with no nearby support.
The focus of the presentation was Communion in Community, how faith organizations take on the needs of the isolated and lonely.
I met many impressive faith leaders who are forming fantastic programs that help the older adults who have minimal support from the community.
These fragile, and lonely folks want to stay at home as long as they can, however, that wish and dream puts their safety and independence at risk. So, churches, synagogues, and mosques take on the task. They stand up in the presence of the aged, and show deep respect for the elderly by designing volunteer programs that give beyond the expected.
For the local faith leaders, there are mounting concerns about the older folks living in rural areas and suburbia because many go without needed services. Identifying the needs will ultimately keep aging residents out of hospitals and nursing homes.
Besides, as one ages, driving becomes a substantial barrier to having a higher standard of living. Although, younger seniors have no issues with getting where they need to be. It affects the seniors who are in the worst health; they indicate that they have problems getting to a pharmacy and grocery store.
Organizations like these have been and will continue to address the concerns.
Hospitals and faith communities working together
The worlds of medicine and faith speak different languages, often have different goals, and struggle to find common ground. Yet, I’ve found interesting examples where, by working together, they can improve the well-being of seniors in their communities.
Volunteer Training: Mother Angeline Ministries of Care – teaches volunteers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Florida, and New York City how to make pastoral visits and provide spiritual comfort to the dying.
Baltimore, the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center trains faith-community lay health educators to identify potential medical conditions, help organize public health programming, and direct fellow congregants to community and medical resources.
North Carolina, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, four other hospitals, and 230 churches – formed FaithHealthNC, which trains and coordinates volunteers who provide individual assistance to high-risk populations, including older adults.
NCBAM – North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry helps adult in their journey aging at home and in the community.
It is my belief that faith communities benefit from such arrangements. We know that many churches and synagogues struggle to attract and maintain members. Less than one-third attend weekly services. Yet, 9 of 10 people believe that religious institutions bring people together and strengthen community bonds. And congregations with engaged members, have better chances to grow.
Carol Marak is an aging advocate and editor at Seniorcare.com. She holds a Certificate in Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.