Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spiritual Care of the Elderly

I've heard it said that growing old isn't for sissies. Physical issues abound. Living arrangements must often be rearranged. Financial worries often loom. Mental and emotional challenges are often experienced. Any or all of these result in isolation of the senior adult at a time they most need support. Due to the urgency that accompanies many of the aging issues, one important area is often overlooked: the spiritual needs of the elderly.

Missy Buchanan has first-hand experience of this. Growing up in a home where parents housed and cared for her grandparents, it was a no-brainer to provide for her own parents in their twilight years. Although they preferred living in a retirement community, she still visited them often and provide much of their physical needs but had never given much thought to their spiritual needs until her mom remarked how much they missed receiving communion. The lack of resources addressing spiritual issues encountered by senior adults led her to write devotions for her parents, and resulted in her eventually becoming an author and advocate for this often overlooked segment of our society.

As Care Minister of our church and as someone who has lost both of my parents as well as my FIL, I was thrilled to learn of Missy Buchanan and the books she has written. I hope to obtain copies of these books to review, but in the meantime, here is an interview with Missy provided by The B&B Media Group as well as a summary of her books.


Even when age creeps up on the body and mind, and life changes from what it once was, is it still possible to have a purpose in life? When it is no longer possible to venture out and do the things you once loved, can you still find a reason to look forward to each day? Missy Buchanan, a leading expert and advocate for senior adults, believes that you can. Buchanan wants to encourage older adults to find their purpose, share their stories, and make an impact on those around them.

Q: What made you decide to start ministering to and writing books for older adults?

Well, as a middle-aged adult, I never had any intention of becoming an author of books for older adults. But because of the journey that my own aging parents were on, I realized how they had become disconnected from their church as their lives changed. They started off as active older adults and then that circle got smaller as they had more needs and physical limitations. As I would visit them at their retirement community, I would also see so many others that were just like them. They needed spiritual encouragement. And so that’s why I got started. The first book began as a project just for my own parents. I wrote devotions and kept them in a loose-leaf notebook. But others started asking for them and things just spiraled from there.

Q: What do you think children need to know about their aging parents?

What I realized personally was that I had been so caught up in my parents’ physical needs that I had neglected their spiritual needs. They were no longer connected to their church, at least in regular worship attendance, and that had been such a huge part of their lives. I almost made that mistake of just totally missing that, and that was the point where I began to write. I looked and there were other books written about older adults but not very many that were written to them and for them. So the first thing I would tell their children is to pay attention not only to their physical needs but also to their spiritual needs.

Q: What is your opinion about role reversal with children and their aging parents?

I hear the whole idea of role reversal where the older parent becomes a child and the grown children become the parent, and I understand what they are talking about because my own parents became more dependent on me. But I think that when we refer to it as a role reversal, and we begin to think of our aging parents as children, we strip away their dignity. We rob them of respect and we overlook the fact that they are not children. They have had a lifetime of experiences that a child has not had. And I think that is an important difference that grown children need to think about and pay attention to. It’s more of a role shift in responsibilities and not a role reversal. I know how much it hurts an aging parent to feel like they are being treated like a baby or like a child.

Q: Other than aging adults, who else has benefited from your writing?

A friend of mine in an assisted living facility asked me to bring some books for one of her tablemates. Her tablemate explained that these books were for her adult children. “They don’t understand what it feels like to grow old, and I can’t seem to make them understand, but your books say it better than I ever could.” My books are all written in the first person as if an older adult is speaking directly to God. There are a lot of adult children that are buying them for themselves and older adults buying them for their grown children.

And I’ve heard of different youth groups that have been reading my books in order to better understand what it’s like to grow old. Instead of just mocking their older peers, they are learning that they share a lot of the same feelings—feelings of insecurity, feelings of fear. As a result of reading the books, one youth group in Tennessee has even adopted the residents of the senior living center across from their church.

Q: How can faith change our idea of growing older?

So many see aging as a punishment, and they dread it so much. But even though it is difficult to be limited by an aging body, they need to look at it as a gift that God has given them. They still have so much to give. They have great wisdom to share and stories to share. I always tell my older friends that their story is not yet over.

Click here to watch Missy Buchanan’s recent interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts and Roberts’ 86-year-old mother.

Visit Missy Buchanan’s website,, and blog,
Become a friend on Facebook (Aging and Faith) and follow on Twitter (MissyBuchanan).

Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms

In Talking with God in Old Age, Missy Buchanan sensitively address the worries, fears, and frustrations of older adults and extends hope, encouraging them to maintain an open dialogue with God. Each reading features:

-A candid conversation with God
-A related passage from Psalms
-Easy-to-read print

Seniors grappling with the aging process will readily identify with these reflections and will find reassurance of God’s Presence. Caregivers, family members, and others seeking to understand aging loved ones will gain insight into the thoughts and emotions of the elderly frail.

Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults
Birthed out of real-life experience, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body is a big dose of authentic spiritual encouragement for frail elderly who struggle to find purpose at the end of their lives. These devotionals addressed to God raise in prayer the many concerns of the frail elderly and provide opportunities to reminisce and reflect on their blessings.

Each devotional offers the following:
  • Easy-to-read print
  • Reader-friendly format
  • Comfortable, nonacademic language
  • A first-person address to God
  • Brief supporting scriptures from the New and Old Testaments

Don't Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults

Coming in March, 2011


View blog reactions



A little over five years ago my parents moved in with Frank and I for six weeks. My dad was suffering from Prostate Cancer and was going through radiation. My mom still worked. We were to be his night babysitters. Five years later...he died from lung cancer. Right before his death we placed them in an assisted living facility and then a nursing home when his health deteriorated beyond the point of us being able to take care of him...and her..she had been diagnosed with dementia. The facility my mom is in has a lot of spiritual activities for their residents. Several churches come and do services during the week and there are several bible studies. My mom went a good bit in the beginning...but as she has moved through the stages of dementia she has forgotten about going. In the beginning they continued to go to church...and then one day....they didn't because my dad was so sick. Their pastor came some...and I provided them with reading materials...the sad thing was that for years my parents had a tape ministry for their church and spent countless hours taking tapes to shut ins....yet...when they were shut one came. No one from their church visited them during the last year of my dad's life. All the people they had loved and visited...seemed to have forgotten they existed....and that hurt. I really can relate to these books.

Barbara H. said...

My mother-in-law has the first of these -- I'll have to look for the other two.

Lea @ CiCis Corner said...

Always love learning about new resources and especially on this subject. We only have my Dad left out of our 4 parents and he is still, at 81, full of life, healthy and vibrant. But, who knows what lies down the road and these resources could serve me well and I think I'll get them for my children so they will have them when the time comes. :o) Right now they cannot even imagine that time coming. Guess they think we'll never grow old or die. Thanks for sharing this with us.