Well, what do you think? Does it matter? We’re friendly and welcoming. Is that good enough? Would you notice if someone’s behaviour changed? If they became forgetful, distracted and not engaging with friends in the way they had previously? Would you do anything about it? Perhaps you’d just wish them “Good Morning” and quickly pass by on the other side.
Research shows that in coming years 1 in 4 people over 65 will experience dementia and 1 in 3 people over the age of 80. So if you’re sitting in church with someone on your right and someone on your left which of the 3 of you will it be? That is simplistic but whilst we have children and young families connected with our church in Frodsham many churches are predominantly made up of older people. This is an issue we would be foolish to ignore.
Patricia and I attended a conference on growing dementia-friendly church, the title of the day was “The Lord is STILL my Shepherd”. The day was informative, interesting and thought-provoking. We heard some rather funny stories, such as the Bishop who told us about the day he found his father on the doorstep wearing his coat, his wellingtons and a tea cosy on his head. The Bishop was embarrassed to discover that his father had been down the street for a pint of milk. But, after a moment or two, he concluded that it probably didn’t matter, no harm done. Then the desperately sad story of a man in his 50’s who was diagnosed with dementia. How were his family going to cope with the steady decline as he lost his mind?
We heard from a couple called Bob and Sylvia. They rehearsed a dialogue for us about their life since her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. She made lots of mistakes, which her husband lovingly corrected, as she smiled or laughed. She was still very aware and alert and wanting to make a difference for others while she still had the ability. They described the blurring of reality being like looking through raindrops on a windowpane.
So how can we, as Christians help? It is a common commandment in the Bible to remember.
“Make certain that you do not forget, as long as you live, what you have seen with your own eyes. Tell your children and grandchildren about the day you stood in the presence of the Lord your God….” Deuteronomy 4:9
“….and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me." 1 Corinthians 11:24
The message of the conference was that losing your mind does not mean losing your soul.
We were encouraged to think about people living well with dementia rather than suffering with dementia. To focus on the person as he or she is and not their deficiencies. It’s helpful not to ask questions, even apparently simple ones such as, “Do you want tea or coffee?” Don’t contradict because it’s not important that the person you’re caring for thinks it’s Tuesday when in fact it’s Saturday. Familiar liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer or the Twenty Third Psalm may possibly be remembered. Music and hymns can still be enjoyed by many people with dementia. Holy Communion and the ministry of touch become ways to make a connection.
We heard from a lady who has set up a carers’ support group in her community to offer fellowship and practical support. It is likely that people affected by dementia will look towards sources of support within the local community. Prepared, equipped for the challenge, the church can be one such source of support. People who are “dementia-aware” will take time to listen to the story, offer support as individuals continue their journey and help them look to the future with hope.
This anonymous, poignant poem gives us a little understanding of the needs of people living with dementia:
To my Carers, Family and Friends:
I need you not to ask me to remember,
Do not try to make me understand;
Let me rest and know you are with me,
Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.
I’m confused beyond your concept, I am sad and I am lost,
All I know is that I need you to be with me at all cost.
Do not lose your patience with me, do not scold or curse or cry,
I can’t help the way I’m acting, can’t be different, tho’ I try.”
Perhaps one of the most important messages of the day was that we need to learn to be at peace with ourselves whilst we are able.
Finally that just leaves the question we started with, “Is our church Dementia friendly?”
Ros Caldwell and Patricia Barnard
Blog posts written by the Minister and Members of Frodsham Methodist Church.