Louisville — Lisa Yancey’s mother-in-law, Zelda, 81, has had Alzheimer’s for a decade. When Zelda’s care giving husband died one-and-a-half years ago, Zelda moved into her daughter’s home.
“My husband, Martin’s family has four siblings,” Lisa explained. “We rotate keeping Zelda. Care giving is exhausting, and it gives all of us a break.”
Zelda, as well as Lisa and Martin, a deacon, are members of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville.
“After my father-in-law died, friends from church visited Zelda, and took her to lunch and movies,” Lisa said. “That meant so much to her even though she couldn’t always remember their names. She always remembered, however, that she knew them.”
Lisa’s Sunday school class has been faithful to pray for Zelda and her caregivers.
“I appreciate their prayers,” Lisa said. “The most heart-breaking part of Zelda’s disease is the emotional turmoil. At times, Zelda feels lost, gets disoriented, and cries. It’s so hard watching a loved one slip away.”
Care Giving in Kentucky
Zelda Yancey is one of 69,000 Kentuckians, age 65 and older, who are victims of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2013, 1,462 Kentuckians died from Alzheimer’s, a 73 percent increase since 2000, making the disease the 6th leading cause of death in the state.
In 2015, caregivers in Kentucky, like the Yancey family, gave more than 307,000,000 total unpaid hours in care giving, valued at $18,957,000,000. As the population continues to grow older, the need for caregivers in Kentucky will increase substantially. Experts predict that by 2025, more than 86,000 Kentuckians will be living with Alzheimer’s.
Care giving can prove a difficult job, often causing the caregiver physical exhaustion, overwhelming stress, deep emotional strain, and a sense of isolation and helplessness. Caregivers often give up promising careers, sacrifice time with family and friends, and suffer financially. While some caregivers have family members and friends to help them, many do not.
Care giving not only involves taking responsibility for a loved one’s physical care, but for their medical and legal care, too. Handling these issues can be confusing, frustrating, and at times overwhelming to the caregiver. A concerned and loving church can be a great source of help and hope to caregivers.
How Your Church Can Help
— Organize a team of concerned volunteers from your church and community who will:
– Contact Alzheimer’s organizations in your area and request resources to educate church leadership, staff, and members about the disease and its devastating consequences on caregivers.
– Identify the caregivers in your congregation who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, contact them, and invite them to meet with your church leader-ship/ministry team.
— Start a support group for caregivers in your church. Invite them to meet once or twice a month to:
– Find out their most urgent physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs;
– Discover what your church can do to help them in their tremendous care giving tasks;
– Ask if they need help understanding or dealing with their loved ones’ financial, medical, and/or legal issues;
– Provide them with needed resources to help them in their care giving.
— If possible, with the help of local Alzheimer’s organizations, set up a weekly respite care for Alzheimer’s patients. Be sure to research the insurance and legal issues involved in providing respite care in your church.
— Ask members of your congregation to minister to your caregivers through visits, phone calls, cards, and emails. Encourage them to show their love and concern by cooking and delivering meals, helping with house and yard work, providing transportation to doctors’ appointments, running errands, picking up prescriptions, etc.
— Encourage professionals in your congregation to offer caregivers help with necessary financial, medical, and legal issues.
— If possible, provide grief counselors to talk with care giving family members.
— Seek individuals who can help caregivers in monetary ways. Costs depend on the facility, but the average cost for full-time care in a Kentucky memory care facility is $4,729 a month.
Church ministry is desperately needed for Kentucky’s caregivers. In 2016, the Southern Baptist Convention made a resolution regarding Alzheimer’s victims and their caregivers: “RESOLVED, That we appeal to Southern Baptists to carry out the mission of the church by reaching outward to families and individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia in their surrounding communities and neighborhoods, praying that we would be known by our love amongst a people who are often isolated and desperate for community and support.”
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cell, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. This incurable, chronic disease causes brain cells and brain cell connections to degenerate and die. It is the most common cause of dementia, or loss of intellectual function, among the elderly. In the United States today, an estimated 5.5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, 5.3 million of them over age 65. Nearly one in every three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
– Alzheimer’s Association Kentucky: http://www.alz.org/kyin/in_my_community_60821.asp. 24/7 Help-line: 1-800-272-3900. (Lists support groups for caregivers meetings in Kentucky.)
– Alzheimer’s Care in Kentucky: http://www.aplaceformom.com/alzheimers-care/kentucky. Helpline: 877-597-6356. (Provides a comprehensive directory of senior assisted living facilities with memory care units in Kentucky.)
– Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services: http://chfs.ky.gov/dail/adultday.htm. (Provides information for adult day care and Alzheimer’s respite in Kentucky.)
– Kentucky Dementia Care Resources and Facilities [Alzheimers.net] http://www.alzheimers.net/resources/kentucky/. Helpline: 855-625-8032. (List Kentucky’s state Alzheimer’s organizations, end of life resources, hospice and palliative care, support groups, legal advocacy, and more.)
The following national websites and phone numbers offer caregivers information, advice, and support:
– Alzheimer’s Association: https://www.alz.org/documents_custom/2016-facts-and-figures.pdf.
– Caring.com Support Groups: www.caring.com/support-groups.
– Family Caregiver Alliance Support Groups: www.caregiver.org/support-groups
– SeniorHelp.org: http://seniorhelp.org/?crid=Alzheimers&headline=Local%20Alzheimer%20Care%20Reviews&ChannelId=c&gclid=CP-Wg5LswtICFdgGgQod7wkMvg, (866)333-5183. (SeniorHelp.org offers comprehen-sive and informative resources and local Alzheimer care reviews for those researching senior assisted living facilities and in home care agencies that provide specialized care for seniors.)
Denise George, author of 31 books, is married to Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University.