Prime Time: Ministering to the Elderly


Christ Church feels called to provide ministry on both an in reach and an outreach basis. Upon learning that our county contains the highest percentage of elderly persons in the entire United States, our church formed a task force to ascertain what type of community-service ministry may best assist these individuals. The church then decided to provide an adult daycare program (nonresidential).

This type of program offers a twofold benefit:

Research shows that elderly individuals who participate in some type of mental and/or physical stimulation can maintain their highest functioning levels an average of eighteen months longer.

Providing the caregivers with some opportunities of respite from the strain of caring for these individuals twenty-four hours each day also remains important for the caregivers’ health and well-being.

Learning these facts helped our church choose to offer a day program that exposes elderly individuals to focused and intentional
activities to stimulate mind and body, while allowing the caregivers the opportunity to take care of themselves.

In operation since November 1985, PRIME TIME Adult Care has grown to include three separate components. We now operate a state-licensed organization consisting of

a “Basic Unit” (Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) to care for frail, elderly individuals with confusion, short-term memory loss, disorientation, and early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

an “Alzheimer’s Specialty Unit” (Tuesday and Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) for those individuals with greater cognitive impairment

a “Caregiver Support Group” with a monthly meeting to promote education, sharing, fellowship, and support to any individual within the community who provides care for another adult

We decided to take our organization even further by becoming licensed to care for anyone over the age of eighteen with a functional impairment. We currently have one young woman with cerebral palsy, one young man who is quadriplegic, and three individuals in their fifties with slight degrees of mental retardation.

We maintain a staff of seventeen, which includes an administrator, nurses, activity leaders, and program assistants. Along with paid staff, many members of both the congregation and the community work as volunteers.

Licensed for twenty individuals a day, we currently run at or near capacity. It heartens us to see how this ministry has grown over
the years. Although we have a very limited budget (with no tangible funds for marketing such as paid ads), ongoing interest from the community emerges from our “word-of-mouth” reputation. This reputation, along with our successful fundraising efforts (craft fairs, celebrity golf, public-service announcements and ads), has resulted in enough monies received from the community to cover 35 percent of our expenses–with only 65 percent of our budget coming from monies received from client families. In fact, we have not had a rate increase since 1993, and we now operate at the lowest end of the fee scale for adult day care in Pennsylvania.

PRIME TIME originally shared Sunday school rooms not used on weekdays, but now the Basic Unit has its own rooms that we have adapted for our clients’ special needs (the self-contained rooms help control “wandering” behavior).

The planned activities include special events like “Hat Days” (everyone wears a favorite hat, such as for fishing or sports teams).
We offer a balanced program of activities oriented for large muscle coordination, such as rhythm bands, bowling with light-weight plastic balls and pins (we have a wheelchair ramp for those who need it to participate), and “sitter-cize” exercise in chairs. The activities that help with small motor skills are puzzles, painting, and other arts and crafts. Mental-acuity-enhancement activities include “reminisce” games, “senior trivia,” and huge crossword puzzles done as a group.

We have begun to offer “Caregiver Support Dinner/Seminars” to provide both fellowship and education to those family members facing the daily challenges of twenty-four-hour care. These events, open to all community members, do not require affiliation with PRIME TIME to participate. As further proof of our commitment to this concept, our regular staff provides care for the elderly persons during these dinner/seminars, at no cost to the participants, so that caregivers can attend and reap the benefits of shared information and friendship.

Many individuals participating in these dinner/seminars have cultivated new friendships. These events provide spouses of Alzheimer victims with a connection to others facing the same challenges. Several have relayed their gratitude to me, and I have seen firsthand how strangers, sitting at a table together, have become true friends, encouraging and supporting each other.

Some of our greatest affirmation comes from client families’ notes and letters. One daughter writes: “PRIME TIME is a very important part of my dad’s life. The staff especially make him feel cared for and happy. Thank you for all that you do!” A spouse writes: “I am so pleased with your program. Thank you for all your care and devotion.” Many more indications of our ministry’s impact arise from caregivers and the clients themselves. Our greatest affirmation comes from families who name PRIME TIME for memorial contributions in lieu of flowers when their family members die.

Our greatest challenge: taking cold, clinical rules and regulations and creating an environment that provides our clients with
warmth, safety, excitement, and wellbeing. The quality people who make up our PRIME TIME staff handle this challenge in an exemplary fashion. These individuals have an innate affinity for others, which we believe reflects the spiritual gifts God gives them. We believe God has guided these lives in such a way that those who so desperately need this care have found us–and those with this spiritual gift now have the opportunity to provide the ministry to which Jesus calls us.

Weber is the PRIME TIME Adult Care Director for Christ United Methodist Church, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.