4 trends in building successful communities of care

By Joe LaGuardia

In a recent joint effort by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and RTI International, researchers Erin Long, Sari Shuman, et. al. explored five inter-faith communities that provide care for loved ones suffering with dementia and their caregivers.

Their research, entitled “Faith-Related Programs in Dementia Care, Support, and Education,” summarizes best practices in religious support for families and caregivers and tips on how to build strong, sustainable communities of care.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the research highlights four trends that make for successful communities of care.

1.  Faith adds to well-being.  Faith-based communities provide benefits for dementia care and caregivers.  As our research here at A Tapestry of Love affirms, faith-based communities provide countless benefits to caregivers and their loved ones.  As Long and Shuman, et. al., note, “Studies have shown that spirituality and religious activity may provide relief from anxiety, reduced behavioral disturbances, and improved quality of life for people with dementia” (Long and Shuman, 3).

Yet, they also affirm that religious activity wanes over time because of the declining health of loved ones.  We too, found that to be a problem: The longer a caregiver and her loved one stay home, the fewer cards, visits, and invitations to activities take place over time.

Faith-based communities of care, however, can close the gap for caregivers and their families who need solace, support, and ongoing professionalized care.  Communities can provide, for instance, intentional programs that increase health and wellness, support groups, educational workshops, and spiritual practices that promote faith and discipleship.

Caregivers provide hours of care to loved ones; houses of worship must be intentional to either meet their needs or work with others to help provide support and resources along the journey of faith.

2.   Collaboration promotes sustainable support.  Faith-based communities that collaborate are sustainable and successful in prolonging and providing support.  Those providing support for caregivers and their families–and churches that seek to do the same–cannot go it alone.  Of all five communities in Long and Shuman’s research, each one collaborated with other churches, non-profits, and government agencies for volunteer training, grant and fundraising awareness, space usage, resource allocation, and diversified support.

When it comes to caring for families, churches need to reach out to one another and even other faith groups for support.  In some instances, one church provided space for a program, while other churches in the area provided volunteers.  Local associations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, provided educational resources to train volunteers, and caregivers.

Collaboration also promotes a wider participation from the community, including promotion of events and workshops, as well as little things that make a difference, such as providing transportation for loved ones and their families to get to support groups and the community.  In one instance, a local taxi service provided subsidized transportation to and from the community center.

As resources are few and quality volunteers limited, it is in the best interest that faith-based communities seek collaborative models for caring for all God’s children in their local area.

3.  Space assures sacred and safe interactions.  Another successful aspect of dementia and caregiver care was the devotion to a specific space for support and programming.  Some of the institutions that were a part of the study had stand-alone spaces, while others found sites that provided space.

Whether it is stand-alone or a partnership, having a safe and devoted space for care and support assures safety and sacred interactions.  This is especially important with people with dementia: Routine and predictability promote well-being, and having a space that is familiar allows for people to feel comfortable and welcomed.

Having a devoted space also allows for ongoing education and volunteer training.  Volunteers work within the confines of a manageable area, know all of the resources that are at hand, and value having a meeting place where they can interact with people who need room to grow, be, and live out their calling as caregivers or care receivers.

Stand-alone facilities, though difficult to come by, are optimal for this type of ministry.  The researchers noted that one community, the Amazing Place in Houston, Texas, boasts a 13,700-square foot building that includes a chapel, art studio, game room, kitchen, conference and training rooms, sitting areas, and a courtyard.  This was made possible by a dream from St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston and the church’s willingness to work with non-profits and other faith groups in the area to secure the space, funding, and the 250 volunteers needed to run the full-time effort.

4.  Faith, Collaboration, and Sacred Space enhance creative engagement.  Creative engagement with loved ones emerge when we put faith to work, collaborate with others, and devote a sacred space to care and support others.  Although many communities provide basic services–fellowship meals, chapel services, and support groups–these trends lend themselves to other creative ventures:

  • A writer’s workshop can help dementia patients find creative avenues to tell their story and leave a written legacy for loved ones.
  • A movie or film night with caregivers can promote new ways of seeing their role as caregivers and can encourage intentional conversations about the promises or perils of the caregiving life.
  • Caregiver workshops can provide much-needed resources for self-care, grief support, or caregiver empowerment.
  • Webinars can expand the promotional base of a ministry, as well as provide ongoing education to the community at large.

As communities continue to experience ministry to those suffering from dementia and the caregivers who help serve that most vulnerable population, it will be increasingly important for faith-based support services to reach out in ever creative ways.  Research shows that support services make a difference.  Faith, collaboration, sacred space, and creative engagement only bolster the type of resources that make for a great, well-rounded community of care.


One Day

Tea and FlowersThis is such a busy time of year.  The birds and bees and most other animals kick it up a notch looking for nesting grounds, a place of safety and abundance.  We human animals tend to do the same thing: spring cleaning, getting the yard gussied up for Easter, beginning that exercise regimen (!).  So what falls by the wayside this time of year?  In all of this busy-ness?  Yep.  Sabbath rest.

Sunday is such a perfect day to ____________________.  From washing cars, mowing lawns, trimming the shrubs, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, etc., etc.  Even if we wait until after our designated hour of Sabbath, we are still missing the point.  Why is it so hard for us to stop — Americans in particular?  Is our culture’s perception of what is safety and abundance too skewed?

About that whole work ethic thing — recently, I saw a comparison between a new Cadillac commercial lifting up a hard driving, single-minded workaholic lifestyle and a new Ford commercial lifting up a distinctly different work ethic.  Different because of the end benefit: growing healthy food for a nutritionally challenged country.  Different — yet, is it really?

When I first saw the two commercials back to back, I celebrated and fist-pumped.  You know.  It sounds wonderful and high-minded. Yet, I couldn’t help but consider whether our busy-ness in an office 7 days a week is any different than our busy-ness digging in the dirt for 7 days a week.  The problem, as I see it, is that we are busy 7 days a week.  How do we have the energy to keep going? Something inevitably has to be suffering.  Whether that something is our health, the relationships with our family, the health of the communities in which we are a part, our very society and culture.

Perhaps having just one day in which we stop would provide us time to recharge.  One day in which we stop striving: whether out of a sense of seeking that safety and abundance for ourselves, our families, our wallets, or even our environment — one day to breathe in rest, peace, quiet; to experience the Presence of God, our families, our friends, our environment.  One day in which we give thanks and express gratitude for all that we do have, for all the choices that we are given, for all the chances we receive — from each other, from God.

One day.  It can start with one breath, one more hour of sleep, one hour of silence, one hour of snuggling on the couch with a spouse, a child, an animal, a book, a pillow, a journal.

One day.  For caregivers particularly, one day can start with a conversation with a friend about giving each other a day of sabbath.

Pick a day.  Any day can be your One Day.

What would your one day look like?  Feel like?  Be like?