Welcoming and supporting people with a dementia type-illness in our church communities is essential, but often forgotten. This is especially the case when the person with dementia begins to do and say things which people find difficult to cope with or to comprehend.
It is hugely important that people with a dementia-type illness continue to function in a meaningful way, regardless of the stage of dementia they are at. If we can provide people with a safe place to participate in a community (that finds their presence valuable and meaningful), it ensures the person continues to find relationship in their life, even when verbal communication is no longer possible.
For those on a dementia journey, if they haven’t previously participated in spiritual care, it’s common to want to begin exploring their spiritual needs, in search of meaning and safety. For people with a dementia-type illness who have had faith, it is so sad that this is often the point when church contact is lost.
When people are having problems remembering things, people who have had (or currently have) a faith connection often recall familiar prayers, hymns, and liturgies. Asking someone what they ate yesterday is going straight to the weakest place of their memory; the memories held for longest are the strongest. Encouraging long-term memory recall provides empowerment and affirmation. Providing religious items and things to touch and hold can enhance worship. When verbal communication is lost, people with dementia can still join in with familiar prayers and hymns. Using visual prompts and familiar images can be greatly beneficial.
Many people question God’s presence when the pain of watching a loved one deteriorate through dementia becomes too much to bear. This is a natural reaction, and very often people need time to adjust to their loved one’s new way of being. But spiritual nourishment and support, and the space to maintain it, actually strengthens carer resilience.
Society has conditioned us to believe that worth is placed on contribution. But worth is not determined by usefulness nor should we deny ourselves the beauty of a living presence and the joy of rediscovering non-verbal communication. The emotional intelligence and essence of a person is never lost. ‘God’s way’ is exactly that: God’s way, and not some human thinking.
Dementia Action Week runs from May 17th to 23rd. Please do what you can to reach out to those in your community who may be affected by a dementia-type illness and experiencing extreme loss and isolation.
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