Simple ways to provide emotional and spiritual care for seniors
By Patrick Lyons, Captain –
I was on a phone call with about 20 other individuals from various agencies who are working to mitigate the effects of aloneness on seniors. Most of these effects involved access to basic needs and services: food, medication and doctor visits. Then there was the big one that was a concern for seniors before they were requested to self-isolate, and in some locations, shelter-in-place: isolation.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), loneliness and isolation can be as damaging to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The hardest hit? Seniors, 28 percent of whom lived alone at the time of the last census. Sadly, 43 percent of seniors regularly felt lonely.
It is not likely that this percentage has improved with the arrival of Covid-19.
In our meeting today, they recommended asking seniors the following questions when agencies interact with a senior over the phone:
- How are you feeling?
- Do you have any concerns?
- What are you doing to take care of yourself?
- Do you have food access needs?
- Do you have prescription/medication needs?
- Do you have opportunities to interact with others? (Continued interaction, not sporadic)
Other things that came out of the meeting were perceptions that many seniors have about the isolation/shelter-in-place protocols. Some seniors are too scared to leave home, even for essential needs. A few believe they are not allowed to leave their homes. One perception that does meet reality? Many feel isolated and lonely.
The Alliance on Aging reported that it is having difficulty keeping up with wellness checks because they cannot get off the phone with the people they are checking on.
My encouragement to you today is to remember seniors. It does not mean you have to ask the above six questions of every phone call, but there are some things we can do. Here are some options:
- Divide the list of numbers for senior program participants among staff and trusted volunteers, and call them twice a week.
- Ask a church member to be the senior Covid-19 liaison who will contact church members to make sure their basic needs are being cared for. If there is an isolation concern, maybe connect them with a phone-pal.
- We will have one of our staff members create activity packets to go with the senior meals we distribute each day. These will include a devotion, crosswords, word searches, and other activities to help stimulate their minds. The packet will also include a referral sheet for seniors who may need services we cannot provide.
Realistically, most of us cannot do everything to meet the needs of seniors in our communities at this time. Many at-risk populations need our services right now. But we can do something.
Prayer: Father, I have had many seniors in my life who have invested in me and encouraged me to be the best version of myself. Many are gone, but there are some still with me. Help me to honor them by ministering to their peers during this challenging time. Give me guidance so that I might do something that alleviates loneliness and a lack of support among seniors in my church and community. In Jesus’ Name! Amen.