Caregiving can be a fulfilling, loving journey, but it is also one that is often filled with stress and anxiety.
Family caregivers may worry how they are physically and financially going to take care of their aging loved one. Older adults worry because their lives are changing and they don’t want to be a burden to others.
In order to find strength and make the most of the caregiving journey, it’s important for family caregivers to find an outlet, says Home Instead gerontologist and caregiver advocate Dr. Lakelyn Hogan in a the webinar: Faith’s Role in the Caregiving Journey. “For many people faith is that outlet.”
When discussing faith, religion and spirituality, it’s important to note they all speak to individualized beliefs. While many people belong to a faith community and find comfort in that experience, not everyone is religious. However; we all have a spiritual dimension that can be nourished through connections. Just as beliefs are deeply personal, the approach to incorporating these beliefs and activities is as unique as the person.
One Husband’s Caregiving Story
That was certainly true for devoted husband and father Carlen Maddux, when he became the primary caregiver after his wife’s early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis at age 50. For five years, he managed the caregiving responsibilities and found ways to cope.
But eventually, the stress took a toll and he looked to others—including a nun, a minister and a spiritual healer—for advice. After meeting with the healer, what eventually gave the couple peace was a faith and feeling of God’s presence that they found within themselves, says Rick Hamlin, executive editor of Guideposts magazine, who retold Maddux’s story for the webinar.
“In a course of several days through prayer, he had this incredible vision, and this is an amazing thing, of God’s tent,” explains Hamlin. “There was this tent just covering him and his wife and his family. And feeling that shelter, he held on to it.
“He found that it was less difficult to do some of those chores with his wife. Whatever it was, that feeling of God’s presence was there. And getting her dressed in the morning, which sometimes could be a source of struggle, instilled confidence and trust that she could share or feel, even though the words weren’t shared.”
Just as Maddux’s faith helped him through the dementia caregiving journey, it’s important to note those living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia may lose the ability to initiate beloved spiritual activities. Care partners play a key role in supporting a loved ones’ faith and spiritual journey. Spirituality is not dependent on cognition.
Memory care expert and author of The Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care, David Troxel offers these tips to help find focused time for spiritual activities during the day. Get more advice in the webinar: Religion, Spirituality and Dementia.
How to Incorporate Faith & Spirituality into Daily Caregiving
- Regularly attend or watch a religious service
- Share or read prayers and scripture together
- Sing or listen to hymns (music can have a dramatic impact for loved ones living with dementia)
- Meditate and/or discuss important life events and accomplishments
- Spend time outdoors connecting with nature
Positive Effects of Faith and Spirituality
Whether it’s because we have seen friends and family who have passed or because we have more time to reflect, as we age, our faith and spirituality tend to grow stronger.
In fact, in a recent Religious Landscape Study, 70 percent of adults over age 65 said that they believe in God with absolute certainty; the number drops to 51 percent in the 18-29 age group.
There are a variety of reasons why spirituality is so important, especially for caregivers and older adults.
Slows cognitive decline. In studies, spirituality and religion appear to slow cognitive decline in older adults with dementia, and help people deal with their disease and have a better quality of life.
Improves physical health. Studies have found that religious involvement is associated with less heart disease, hypertension and mortality rates.
Helps develop coping strategies. As in Maddux’s case, his faith was his way of coping with stress and the emotional demands of caregiving and gave him a renewed energy, which also positively affected his wife.
Provides a sense of community. Especially for older adults who may feel socially isolated, faith provides them a way to feel connected, whether by physically attending services with others or simply by feeling connected and part of something bigger through prayer.
In her book titled Strength for the Moment: An Inspirational Book for Caregivers, Home Instead co-founder Lori Hogan shares prayers especially for caregivers to help find strength through faith.
For more inspiration, spend some time with this collection of scriptures—especially selected for caregivers. Wishing you hope, wisdom, peace and a renewed perspective.
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
When you called me to care for my mother I never dreamed it would be this difficult. Please open my eyes to opportunities that surround me to stimulate and interact with her throughout the day. Help me to see that spending time with my mother is a privilege and a blessing, and not a burden.
God of Love,
Your Holy Word tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Help me to step out in obedience and follow those instructions. Change my heart, O God, and give me compassion to love others even when they are difficult to love and not able to respond or reciprocate.
Giver of Abundant Life,
Thank you for the precious gift of laughter! Please lift the burdens I feel today and let me lift the spirits of those for whom I care. I thank you and praise you, Father, for the unique gifts you have blessed me with and those you have yet to reveal. Continue to use me boldly for your honor and glory.
Lord, you are the God of Details,
Please give me the wisdom and sense of timing to talk to my parents about their desired future care. What a blessing to know how they want to age. Enable me to follow their plan, Lord. Help me to gather my important papers and affairs together for my children, so that they can have peace of mind knowing that my wishes are recorded.
Lord of All,
Help me to be flexible and have the ability to go with the flow as I care for my parent with Alzheimer’s. I pray that I will not get angry when things don't go as planned throughout the day. Help me to discover the humor in unusual situations and not take life so seriously. But most of all, Lord, I want my parent to know he is loved. Thank you for your tender, unconditional love.