Homebound people often struggle with how to pass the time.

HomeTouch - Elderly woman looking out the window.

Here’s how churches can help!

 

I was chatting with a surgeon in my community about her work: the patients, difficult surgeries, successes and disappointments. One subject of our conversation was post-operative care for those who were temporarily homebound. She said that many patients — sidelined for six to eight weeks because of a serious injury and complicated surgery — struggle with the passage of time. Boredom sets in, and along with it, irritation, and resentment. Sometimes, these emotions can interfere with recovery. 

My chat with the doctor coupled with my own experience visiting my mother in the assisted-care center where she lived the last 14 years of her life (she died last year at the age of 101), stimulated some thinking about how the homebound spend their time. When I visited my mom, I would often see residents who could sit for hours with hands folded in their laps, staring into space. 

Not my mother. Fortunately, she had interests. She loved to read, host a Bible study with one or two friends, play Rummikub and watch Bonanza. But even she had moments when she didn’t feel like reading or watching TV, and her friends weren’t around to study the Bible or play a board game. 

Boredom is often difficult for healthy, active people whose bodies have yet to experience the constriction of physical limitations. It’s much harder for retired people whose physical and mental skills are on the decline. They frequently struggle to find something to do. It’s even harder for them to find something to do that they believe is meaningful. It’s still worse for the homebound who are often acutely aware that their mobility (which for them equals freedom) is limited. Boredom plus limited mobility is a formula for depression and acedia. What can we do? 

Denise Nitta, an occupational therapist from the Detroit Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, has some suggestions for people who’ve become listless and bored. “I’m a big proponent of keeping the mind and hands busy,” she says. 

That’s why it is not uncommon for assisted-living centers to have jigsaw puzzles lying about, and many residents enjoy having one going on a card table in their own suite. Ministry team members can encourage this by working a jigsaw puzzle with the homebound. 

Nitta even mentions church groups. Sometimes, church members will visit to continue crocheting and knitting projects. They gab and keep their fingers going at the same time, all the time. 

The homebound who can walk unassisted or with a walker should be encouraged to do so. 

When a ministry team member visits, this option should always be considered.  

If the homebound person has the mental agility to write, team members could work with them on a correspondence plan involving grandchildren or far-flung friends. She or he should be encouraged to write in a journal, perhaps even to jot down stories of their early lives. Some may even write a memoir, as did my mother. She called it Armchair Memories. We self-published it with a “print-on-demand” publisher and gave copies to the extended family.  

People always look forward to outings. Sometimes, family members can take the homebound person on a special trip in the afternoon. The church’s ministry team could encourage family, friends and neighbors to check on the homebound through phone calls, text messages and visits.  

One technique the ministry team might consider to monitor a specific homebound person’s spiritual and emotional well-being is to assign a “case manager” to each homebound person. Every homebound person in your congregation has a specific person/counselor designated to be their go-to person. This homebound person becomes, in effect, a client. The case manager has the phone numbers, other contact information for all the relevant family members. The case manager can identify herself or himself to the family as the person that they can contact if they have questions.  

In this way, the church’s ministry team becomes another channel of support for the family, as well as the homebound person.  

It’s not possible to ensure that anyone will never be bored, listless or lonely again. But by focusing on this potential issue, the ministry team will be able to mitigate the problem and diminish the role that boredom may play in the day-to-day lives of the homebound.

 

HomeTouch Ministry (a sister publication of Homiletics Online) is a service that provides ideas, content, activities and inspiration that can help you engage with and support your homebound and elderly members. For more information, visit HomeTouchMinistry.com.

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Timothy Merrill

TIMOTHY MERRILL is an ordained minister and has served churches in Oregon, Minnesota and Colorado. His doctoral work at Princeton Theological Seminary focused on the apocalyptic nature of the preaching of the First Crusade in 1096 A.D. His work has been published in the academic press including the Patristica and Byzantine Review and the Westminster Theological Journal. His book, Learning to Fall: A Guide for the Spiritually Clumsy (Chalice Press) appeared in 1998.

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