When elderly people stop showing up for church on Sundays, it can be a sign of trouble — a sign that they are dropping out of sight due to health concerns, or even depression.
In many instances, older people have retired to Florida, leaving their children and other immediate family members behind in other states.
"Often times, there is no one around to keep a close eye on Mom and Dad," to make sure they are doing OK on a daily basis, said Judy Smolk, a member of First Presbyterian of Brandon and co-chairwoman for an upcoming seminar, Living on Golden Pond: Support for an Aging Population.
The seminar, which First Presbyterian is hosting Oct. 20, is open to everyone, but targets caregivers and those in the faith community willing to take on the responsibility once held solely by family members.
"The depression you get when you realize your body is failing, estrangement from children who are a thousand miles away" … can drive older people into isolation if no one is paying attention, Smolk said.
The Brandon church has teamed up with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and a pastor at Florida Presbyterian Homes in Lakeland who specializes in elder spirituality.
"We've had an active group of seniors for several years now at our church," Smolk said.
Smolk and co-chairwoman Terry Morrison observed the group and realized that as members became older and frailer, they were more likely to drop out of the church scene and have even fewer eyes on them.
Larry Baxter, chief of the Elder Rights Bureau for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, will provide information on housing, transportation, health and wellness, employment, and volunteerism for the elderly.
Rev. Barbara Booth-Jarmon, who recently earned her doctorate in the spirituality of elders, will offer insight on how the spiritual community can get more involved with the elders in their churches.
"The generation no longer able to do is the generation that came through after World War II, and they grew America," Booth-Jarmon said. "As they are becoming older … they have diminished self-worth. They have to understand how much God values them for being, not doing."
Booth-Jarmon said she will pass on information that caregivers can use to talk to seniors about the second half of their lives, a time when people typically reconcile with God all things spiritual in their lives.
Knowing how to meditate and how to reconcile with God adds quality to people's later years, she said.
The seminar will cover legal and financial issues, nutrition and home care, care for dementia patients, and fall prevention — with an emphasis on balance and strength-building.
The seminar is designed to encourage a variety of faith-based groups in the county to help create a network of care and support for the elderly, Smolk said.
"What I see — I am a nurse of many years — is that the faith communities need to work closely with the government services that already exist," Smolk said. "That doesn't always happen. The faith communities need to investigate what is out there … and then supplement those with what is not happening."
The church needs help identifying what is missing and then to respond to it, Smolk said.
She said she hopes the numerous Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups invited to participate in the seminar will be able to answer those questions.
The seminar is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. To register, go to www.fpcbrandon.org. There is no cut-off for registration, but participants are asked to register in advance and pay a $10 fee, which covers lunch.