Spiritual Care and Support for the Elderly

How can we minister to my elderly aunt's spiritual needs? She's been a strong and dedicated Christian all her life. Now she's living in a nursing facility and is frail, mentally weak, and increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative. Do you have any practical suggestions?

This is a very important subject, since the spiritual domain is one area that still provides room for growth during the senior years. The body may break down, but the spirit is still capable of expansion, renewal, or even new birth in old age. In spite of changes, losses and chronic health conditions, elderly people can continue to cultivate their relationship with God.

The problem, of course, is that aging Christians often have trouble staying connected with spiritual support systems. To put it another way, it’s hard for them to get the fellowship they need. This is the issue that underlies your concern for your aunt, and we want to commend you for being perceptive enough to notice it and loving enough to take it on as a personal project.

Like all Christians, seniors need the companionship and encouragement of other believers if their faith is to be nourished and grow. Unfortunately, the older they get, the more difficult it is for many of them to stay involved with the local church. Some are too feeble to get to church. Others lose their connections to the community of faith as their friends die or move away. Decreasing mental capacities can make church an overwhelming or negative experience for some elders. And those who do attend services often come away feeling alienated by changes in worship styles, long-cherished traditions or doctrinal stances. As a result, they tend to become increasingly isolated in their faith.

What can you do about this? Our answer is simple: you – and the other members of your family – can become the fellowship group or spiritual support system that your aunt so desperately needs. You can demonstrate God’s love for her by providing comfort and stability in a time of change and uncertainty. One way to do this is to draw her out with questions about her walk with God. You can give your aunt a tremendous boost by letting her know that you look up to her spiritually. Ply her with questions. How has God provided for her and her loved ones? How has He answered her prayers? Does she have a favorite hymn? Sing it with her. Does she have a favorite verse from the Bible? Read it and discuss it with her. Encourage her to tell her life story – not only to you, but to the younger generation as well. This will help the entire family realize that they are part of a spiritual continuum that stretches back for generations.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you look for opportunities to minister to your aunt in Christ’s name:

  • Be a listening friend. Allow her to re-live past stories and talk about her losses.
  • Offer hope and encouragement. A loving hug and tender words can go a long way toward bringing healing to a grieving heart.
  • Get practical. If your aunt can’t make it to church, find ways to bring the church to her. Sing, pray, and read daily devotional books with her. Play sermon tapes or CDs. Ask your pastor to stop by and visit with her from time to time.
  • Remember days that she considers special, such as the anniversary of her spouse’s death. Care about the things that matter to her.
  • Encourage her to make new friendships and become involved in spiritual activities. The ministry of prayer is especially important in this regard. Many older persons, including those who are not able to attend church services, find intercessory prayer a significant part of their spiritual lives.

If you’d like to discuss any of these suggestions at greater length, don’t hesitate to call and speak with one of our pastoral counselors.


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Caring for Aging Parents


Caregiver Action Network

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Stephen’s Ministry

Crossroads Ministries USA


Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

Elderly Care

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