In this blog article, the Rev. Becky King and the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins share tips for local congregations with independent older adults in their communities. Reprinted with permission.
By the Rev. Becky King and the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins
During this pandemic, United Church Homes and the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging would like to support you in providing care to older members in your congregation. We’ve gathered some tips and best practices below to help you navigate the ever-changing regulations surrounding our ministry.
As you know, older adults are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and they may need significant care if they contract it. Due to this, we’re experiencing severe restrictions about who may enter communities and how we can interact when together.
For those of us with independent older adults in our communities, they are currently not under the same regulations; however, just like older adults at home, they are still at risk. Precautions UCH is implementing, per the Centers for Disease and Control, can also be applicable to those engaging with people sheltering in place:
Restrict visitors who come into the home. Visiting is good but call ahead — preferably on a nice day, so you can visit outside. And plan to keep six feet between you. Meet with them on the front porch, deck or patio. Since spring is just beginning, you may have to help them get out their lawn chairs or clean off the bench or porch swing. Being outside will provide additional space and air between you. And if you helped them prepare the space, they may be more likely to seek fresh air when meeting with others in days to come.
Be fever free for 24 hours. This is critical — no meds to get that temp down either! Also ask if the older adult has had a temperature within the past 24 hours and inquire about their breathing. If you suspect they are ill, have them call their doctor for further instructions.
Provide some activity “gifts.” Even though most people aren’t bored at home, after many days of not being able to go out, it might be nice to receive some new mind-challenging or imaginative items. Books. Puzzle books. Magazines. Jigsaw puzzles. Coloring books for adults and colored pencils. Ask if they need any supplies for their crafts or hobbies. If you don’t know what would bring them joy or contentment, ask when you are together and take to them on a return visit.
Don’t take items directly into the house. Whether you are dropping off groceries or supplies or gifts, take them to the door and let the individual take them inside. If they are physically unable to do so, take the items inside while maintaining the six-foot distance. You might also take them sanitizing wipes, so they can wipe down anything you’ve delivered that has a hard surface. DON’T take things to the extreme as did Conan O’Brien in this video!
Ask the individual who will take care of them if they become ill. You may already know that person, but if it’s a family member who’s not a part of the congregation, ask if they would be willing to either share your name and contact information with their designated caregiver. That way, you’ll be notified of illness and will still be able to provide appropriate pastoral care. Or ask if they would feel comfortable sharing their caregiver’s contact information with you. Assure them that it would confidential, and you would only contact the intended care provider if you couldn’t reach them or if you were concerned about their health and safety. Be sure to honor their trust and ensure them you’re committed to supporting them during these extraordinary times.
Break bread together with technology. Many of us enjoy conversing with others at mealtime. During this pandemic, many older adults may be eating alone. Invite them to join in your table conversation via the phone or other social media. Breaking bread together allows older adults to feel part of a larger table. It also entices them to eat.
Pets. Often, older adults have pets to keep them company. Please ask about the needs of the pet(s) in the home. Veterinarians are considered essential at this time. If an older adult’s pet needs medical attention, offer to take the pet to its appointment.
Online resources. Zoos, museums, theaters, musicians and others have provided links to free access to these resources. These resources will help older adults to remain connected to the world.
Vespers. Provide a prayer via Facebook email, or over the phone at a set time each evening. Zoom, Facebook Live or other technology may be useful here. Don’t assume that just because they are older, they don’t understand technology. Close to 70 percent of adults over 65 use smartphones, computers or tablets.
Finally, remember to ask what they need during this time. Find out how you and your congregation can serve them. There are lots of well-intentioned people — children, youth and adults — who are also experiencing this interruption to their daily lives. Many would benefit from being able to help others. By asking for support, the older adult is opening an opportunity for others to use their own gifts for ministry.
Thank you for all you are doing as you pivot from all that you knew about pastoral care and ministry into the unknown territory defined by this virus. May we find new opportunities to serve each other and give witness to the power of love at work in the world!
The Rev. Becky King is chaplain at Fairhaven Community in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and dean of chaplains at United Church Homes. The Rev. Beth Long-Higgins is director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging of United Church Homes.