All One in the Church #3: Dementia
Dementia affects people’s ability to think and debilitates memory. While it can be frustrating to deal with people who are confused, it’s also a great way to practice the fruit of the spirit.
Don’t Forget that Not Everyone Can Remember
Many ecclesias have an aging congregation, so you may have people in your church with dementia. This brain disease normally starts after age 65—sometimes even earlier in the case of Alzheimer’s—and is very common after 80. It affects people’s ability to think and debilitates memory.
NO LONGER THE WAY IT WAS
Do you know brothers and sisters who used to be easy to get on with who have now become problematic? Who used to be the life and soul of the party but are now quiet? Who have started to struggle with a job they used to be good at? If they are also grappling with their memory, they may have dementia.
Dementia affects people’s ability to think and debilitates memory.
It is challenging when long-standing workers in your meeting become unable to do their normal jobs and need looking after now. It must be especially frustrating for them at the Breaking of Bread, where we’ve been given the instruction: “This do in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:24). Dementia does not mean the end of church life, but it calls us all to adapt to meet new challenges.
HOW CAN I HELP?
An organization such as Dementia Friendly America provides support for faith communities. So, you could arrange training for the ecclesia’s members. But there are many simple things which can help:
- Give everyone a warm welcome, and if someone seems confused, gently remind them of who you are and where they are.
- Include everyone in conversations, speaking slowly and clearly.
- Never talk to others about them as if they were not there. This may be hurtful and confusing.
- People often remember music and can sing or play an instrument long after they lose the ability to converse. Hymn singing can be very comforting.
- Gentle touch may be reassuring, but be sensitive to their response.
- If someone behaves oddly during a service, don’t be upset; they may have forgotten what they are meant to do.
- Avoid arguing minor points of fact, even if you know they are wrong. Change the subject and find something you agree on. Treat them with dignity and respect.
- If someone becomes anxious, ask if they need the restroom. They may have forgotten where it is. Large signs on bathroom doors may help.
- Create a quiet place for people who feel overwhelmed. Have picture books and old photographs for them to look at.
- Be supportive of their care givers and offer to help. Looking after someone who is confused and who may be wakeful at night is exhausting.
While it can be frustrating to deal with people who are confused, it’s also a great way to practice the fruit of the spirit.
People with dementia can still live well, have a full life, and join in worship. They may yet have much to offer if they get extra time and support. While it can be frustrating to deal with people who are confused, it’s also a great way to practice the fruit of the spirit:
These qualities are all fruitful responses to dementia.