As the baby boom generation--and their parents--age, the need for home-based caretaking is steadily growing. Current estimates suggest there are more than 25 million family caregivers active in America today. Roughly 80% of all home care today is provided by relatives, often untrained and unassisted, and frequently overwhelmed by the task.
Political initiatives at both the state and local level may eventually improve the availability and affordability of home caretaking assistance. But regardless of changes in the law or financing, primary responsibility for home care will always rest with families. Religious communities can and should be an important source of support and practical help for families facing the multiple challenges of extended home care.
How to Help
Say a prayer during each service, not only for those who are sick, but also for their family caregivers. Family caregivers tend to be invisible and their contributions minimized or ignored. By offering prayers for caregivers and care receivers during the weekly service you will both raise the self esteem of caregivers and honor the bonds of family devotion that are part of every faith tradition. In addition, consider creating a prayer chain of people who will pray independently at home for families in need.
Be a truly "Caring Congregation." Survey the caregiving families in your community. Identify the help they need most -- transportation, respite, help with insurance or other paperwork, household support, regular meals, guidance on end-of-life issues. Organize a volunteer network to respond to the needs most frequently cited.
Establish a family caregiver support network or buddy system. Introduce caregivers in the congregation to one another. Provide them with the opportunity to support and learn from each other by giving them meeting space within the church or synagogue, or creating a caregiver phone or email list. Provide a trained leader or pastoral counselor for the group.