Aging Well — Supporting those in senior communities

Each Sunday morning before worship begins, I make the rounds to visit with older friends at church. Not long ago I hugged an older woman and asked about her upcoming week. After a brief pause, she forced a smile and told me that she was going to attend an Open House at a new senior community not far from the church.

I have known this precious woman for decades. She’s fiercely independent and a woman of deep faith. During the last few years, she has felt the sharp pangs of loss that often accompany old age. Her longtime husband and best friend died suddenly. Her hearing loss worsened, and in spite of a regular exercise regime, she still deals with arthritic pain and decreasing physical stamina. Now some of her dearest friends are moving hundreds of miles away to be near their adult children.

I applauded my friend for exploring the idea of a move to a senior residence where meals and housecleaning would be provided. Whatever she ultimately decides, it will not be easy. She adores her custom-built home, the place where she has entertained family, friends and United Methodist Women over the years.  In many ways though, maintaining her home has become more a burden than a blessing. Even the multi-level floor plan is becoming a challenge for her aging body.

The conversation with my church friend reminds me of other older friends I visit each week. Every Tuesday I make a thirty-mile round trip, visiting friends in three senior living communities, each in a different suburban city.

One Tuesday not long ago I made an intentional effort to pay attention to other senior care communities along the route. I was already aware of some, but soon I began to notice senior-related facilities that I had overlooked. There were assisted living centers, memory care facilities, independent senior living apartments, nursing homes and senior rehabilitation centers. On the next trip I decided to count them and soon discovered that, in addition to the three that I regularly visit, there were fourteen other senior residences along my usual route.

It got me to thinking about all the unnamed older adults inside each of those senior communities. I thought about the many older adults who are struggling to find purpose as their bodies are growing frail. I wondered about those who are lost in the fog of grief following the death of a longtime spouse and those who have left their homes to move to an unfamiliar city to be near family.

On the following Tuesday, I decided to count the number of churches along the same route and discovered there were eighteen. I couldn’t help but wonder if those churches were reaching out to the older adults in senior communities near their campuses.

In my interaction with older adults around the nation, I am often disheartened by the comments from seniors who have been neglected by their churches or who feel unconnected to a church family after moving to a new area. I have discovered, too, that for many church leaders, ministry to, for and with older adults in senior communities is not even on their radar.

And so I make this challenge to every minister and lay person in local United Methodist congregations everywhere. Set your sights on senior communities as you travel around town. Be intentional about saying a prayer for the people inside. Having a heightened awareness of those who are too often forgotten is at least a small step in the right direction.

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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I appreciate Ms. Buchanan's commentary. I had to put my wife of 50 plus years into a nursing home–with a closed unit–about 50 miles from our home. My visits are limited to about 3 days a week–sometimes fewer–rarely more. She has visitors other than myself, but, very, very few visits from the pastor of the church we attend. It is surprising how "attached" I have become to other residents in that same unit. It is surprising and very sad to see all of them gradually decline. The CNAs do the yoeman's work and the closed unit needs more permanent staff… Read more »

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