Many persons with dementia, especially those raised in religious households, benefit from attending services and having home visits. Connecting with their faith and faith community may bring peace, hope and some sense of familiarity. They can often take part in age-old rituals and celebrations and enjoy hearing favorite music and readings.
Some aspects of faith that may bring comfort are:
- Music can soothe the soul and connect someone to faith and memory despite the level of cognitive loss. Recent studies show that listening to music and singing can boost brain activity and recall in dementia patients. Even a person not able to converse with caregivers may quietly sing the right words to an often-repeated and much-loved spiritual song or hymn.
- Listening to or reciting prayers, especially those often-repeated or memorized in earlier years, can connect an individual to faith, memories and a sense of the familiar. Incorporate a treasured prayer book or favorite rosary beads; the use of both visual and touch help to cue memory.
- Readings also provide prompts to reconnect to the faith memory. Reading is a skill a person with a progressive dementia like Alzheimer’s Disease maintains for a long time. Prepare large print cards with a loved one’s favorite passages to read together.
- Daily and cyclical rites and celebrations related to one’s faith can involve the senses of taste, touch and smell that are often not affected by dementia. They, along with the familiar ritual, allow all to use those still-active senses and participate in the person’s faith tradition.
Supporting Family Caregivers
Providing care for a loved one with dementia can take a heavy toll on a family caregiver. Because care can last for years, the caregiver can feel weary, isolated, frustrated, depressed and grieving the loss of who the person once was. Faith communities can encourage the caregiver to practice good self-care and provide support through gifts of service and direct resources.
Dementia-Friendly Faith Communities
Adjusting your faith community’s expectations and approach to people with dementia and their caregivers enable them to feel loved, valued and that they belong to the community. Creating shorter special services, providing a quiet room, ensuring your facility is safe and accessible, educating members, finding ways to include the person with dementia and treating them with respect are just some ways you can explore becoming dementia-friendly.
Here are some resources for creating a dementia-friendly faith community:
- Building Dementia-Friendly Faith Communities, FaithAction
- Growing Dementia-Friendly Churches, Christian Coalition on Aging & Methodist Homes
- The Dementia-Friendly Church, The United Methodist Church
- African-American Clergy Guide, Health Power for Minorities
- Developing a Dementia-friendly Church, Alzheimer’s Society