Category Archives: Faith Community

Dementia-Friendly Faith Communities: Let’s Get Started

Faith communities should start to think about creating a culture of acceptance for persons with dementia.

Many faith communities find themselves investing in worship experiences that will attract younger members.  However, it is just as essential to keep older members engaged and attending worship services, including those with dementia.

Faith often plays a vital role in the lives of persons with dementia and their family members.  But, the presence of dementia can greatly interfere with a person’s ability to actively engage in their faith community.

Becoming a dementia-friendly congregation will create an open and welcoming environment for all.  It is an initiative that can be embraced by all members, regardless of age.  Faith communities are stronger when they recognize the value of multi-generational connection and interaction.

Dementia-Friendly Transformation

Church leaders can begin by calling upon professional community resources to educate congregational members about the needs of persons with dementia.

We should dispel notions that people with dementia are incapable of benefitting from worship.  As a result,  persons with dementia can be more easily understood and accepted with compassion and lack of judgment.

Recognizing when someone stops attending is a good first step.  Leaving the house alone as the disease progresses is very overwhelming and leads to isolation. Mobilizing volunteers to reach out and offer transportation could help them hold on to their faith a little longer.

Start with Small Changes

Begin with simple changes to assist persons with dementia to better navigate their way around the church. Therefore, consider forming a group of volunteers, with specialized training, to serve as ambassadors to escort or sit with someone in need.

Create opportunities for purposeful engagement to keep them connected.  Serving as a greeter, wiping down tables after fellowship, or telling a bible story in Sunday school may be a possibility.

Dementia-friendly worship is best when it is inclusive and engaging.  In doing so, we help them stay close to God and honor the mothers and fathers of our faith.

Beth is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a compassionate professional with decades of experience as a Registered Nurse, caregiver, patient advocate, educator, and trainer.  Early in her career, Beth found her passion for working with elderly populations and their caregivers.  Living in the Green Bay/Fox Valley area with her husband, she enjoys driving a ski boat for barefoot or slalom water-skiers, playing board games or creating a new quilt.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare,  she provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving to private and professional caregivers.  She is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

Is it Possible for Doctors to Provide Compassionate Care?

The Physician’s Oath promises to approach all patients with integrity, candor, empathy, and respect.  I believe that most doctors take their oath seriously.  I believe most doctors study very hard because they truly want to help other people and make a positive difference in the field of medicine.  Doctors have a tremendous responsibility in today’s messy healthcare environment.  They work long hours, have many patients and deal with lots of complications to ultimately deliver the care that their patients need.  So, is it really possible for doctors to provide compassionate care?

I will speak only from a patient and patient advocate perspective, after having been a caregiver to my aging parents for many years.  Most doctors want to listen to their patients and get to know them beyond their medical conditions.  I really believe that.  I think most doctors would agree that the complexities of healthcare take away from the time they would like to spend with their patients and families so that they can be a source of compassion and guidance.

For doctors to provide compassionate care, they must have time.  Unfortunately,  this is rarely a luxury, if at all.  Treating patients medical needs is first and foremost when it comes down to it.  Having the time to converse and get to know their patients is almost unheard of these days.  So how can doctors provide compassionate care when the odds are stacked against them in so many ways.

In dementia training, we teach the importance of eye-to-eye contact,  slowing down, speaking with respect to another person, gently holding one’s hand to provide comfort among other simple gestures. These are signs of compassionate care that take no more time than the alternative.  Sometimes a smile or caring concern is all it takes to quickly make another person feel like they are important to another person – even if it’s brief.

Doctors are fixers, and it’s natural in their hurried days to be focused on fixing what’s wrong.  And no doubt that is monumentally important.  As healers, though, a doctor can and should practice compassionate care even though the odds are often stacked against you.  Compassionate care can be taught, learned and passed on to others. It’s an emotional, spiritual and transformational gift that you give another person shown with the simplest of gestures.

Compassion can be felt by another just by the gift of your genuine presence.

Pam Brandon is President of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  She is the creator of the Dementia Live® Simulation and Awareness Program.  

Recognizing the Work of Long-Term Care Ombudsman

In recognition of National Volunteer’s month,  I’d like to honor the people who serve as long-term care ombudsman.  Many people do not realize the important role they play in keeping our elders safe by advocating for their rights.

The long-term care ombudsman program is mandated by state and federal law and funded by the Older Americans Act  (OAA) through the Executive Office of Elder Affairs.  Under this Act, every state is required to have an Ombudsman Program that addresses complaints and advocates for improvements in the long-term care system.

According to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center (NORC), each state has an Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman (Office), headed by a full-time State Long-Term Care Ombudsman (Ombudsman) who directs the program statewide. Across the nation, staff and thousands of volunteers are designated by State Ombudsmen as representatives to directly serve residents.

What is the Responsibility of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman? 

The Ombudsman program advocates for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes, assisted living facilities, and other similar adult care facilities. State Ombudsmen and their designated representatives work to resolve problems individual residents face and effect change at the local, state, and national levels to improve quality of care. In addition to identifying, investigating, and resolving complaints, Ombudsman program responsibilities include:

  • Educating residents, their family and facility staff about residents’ rights, good care practices, and similar long-term services and support resources;
  • Ensuring residents have regular and timely access to ombudsman services;
  • Providing technical support for the development of resident and family councils;
  • Advocating for changes to improve residents’ quality of life and care;
  • Providing information to the public regarding long-term care facilities and services, residents’
  • rights, and legislative and policy issues;
  • Representing resident interests before governmental agencies; and
  • Seeking legal, administrative and other remedies to protect residents.

We are honored to train many long-term care ombudsman on our programs.  Their dedication and passion to help older adults are admirable.  As our aging population swells, more people will reside in care facilities and the need for more ombudsman is growing.  We encourage others to consider volunteering for this organization.  You may contact your local Area Agency on Aging or the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Center to learn more.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  

When to Say Yes and How to Say No – Creating Healthy Boundaries

Caregivers are a unique group of people.  Naturally nurturing and compassionate, such empathetic traits can also lead to complex challenges.  Creating healthy boundaries is especially tough when you are the type of person that wants to help.  Learning when to say yes and how to say no is essential for caregivers to stay physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy.

Before I jump into my tips, tools, and suggestions, I’d like to share a story.   It relates to boundary setting and caregivers who merely do too much for their well-being.  For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to this person as Susan, whom I met with over the course of several years while facilitating a caregiver support group many years ago.  Susan’s mom, Jean, lived in her own home about 20 miles from Susan.  Jean’s husband had passed away five years earlier, and Jean never dealt with her grief and worked through the healing process. Her husband’s death left Jean depressed and angry.  She no longer socialized with friends and extended family, was not keeping up with responsibilities of home ownership, and was not addressing  her  health issues.  Jean was showing signs of cognitive decline.

Susan, who was her primary caregiver, had a demanding job which required some travel and many hours. She had talked to her mom many times about moving to a senior community, where she would not have the responsibilities of keeping up her house and would once again be able to enjoy the company of others.  Jean would not hear of it.

Instead, Jean relied solely on Susan to take care of home repairs and expected Susan to visit during the week and spend almost every Saturday with her.  Susan’s marriage was suffering, as her husband felt as if her mom had taken over their life.

Susan loved her mother but knew that she was collapsing from the weight of being everything to her. She knew that as long as her mom refused to move into a care community, that the situation was only going to become more overwhelming.

When we discussed boundaries, Susan broke down in tears.  She had read about the importance of creating healthy boundaries in relationships, and especially when one is caregiving for an older adult.  She didn’t know how to solve the problems she had with her mother.

Creating healthy boundaries allow us to take care of ourselves first so that we can enjoy healthy relationships with others.  When caregiving, it is especially important to step back and ask the following questions regularly:

  •  When I say “yes” to something that has been asked of me, how does it make me feel?  In other words, is saying yes causing stress or feelings of anxiety? If so, this is a sign that perhaps you are saying ‘yes’ to requests that you should be instead learning how to say ‘no’.
  • By saying ‘yes,’ what are you giving up? Is it time away from others that you love or maybe time away from being with yourself doing such things as reading, meeting with friends, exercising or other activities that you find joy in doing?
  • Does a “yes” put me in a position of having to choose between people whom I love and care for and does it make me feel conflicted?
  • What would happen if I say NO? Think about the consequences (or choices) that would have to be made?  Are you willing to lovingly say ‘no’ even though it may cause hurt feelings?  (I hope the answer to that is a YES!)

Creating healthy boundaries is not easy, and in fact, may cause hurt feelings.  It’s also essential to preserving your health and well-being. Caregivers cannot be all things to all people, no matter what the circumstance.  Moreover, if you continually say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’ it will inevitably lead to enormous resentment with the person for whom you are caring.

During our time together, Susan did help her mom through the move to a senior care community.  Her mom wasn’t happy and continually played with Susan’s emotions by making her feel guilty for not being there as often and saying that she hated the food and they she hadn’t made friends.  Surprisingly (or not so!) when Susan talked with the staff, they told Jean seemed to enjoy many activities and ate at almost every meal. They did not see an unhappy resident.

With coaching, Susan was able to lose some of her guilt, spend more time with her husband, and learned to set boundaries when her mother tried to break down the fence.  After a fairly rough three months, Jean has acclimated to her new home, Susan and her husband have taken a trip, and Susan even learned how to set boundaries with her job!

Creating healthy boundaries is not easy, but it is essential and will be one of the best gifts you can give yourself and those whom you love.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  She is the creator of the internationally recognized Dementia Live® simulation and empathy training program;  pam@ageucate.com