Dementia friendly churches

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Dementia seems to be in the news at the moment. Joanna Collicutt describes how the Church can support people with memory loss.

Photo: Istock

Photo: Istock

There are debates about the way that dementia care is financed; scandalous incidents of poor care of dementia patients in hospitals and nursing homes; research reports on potential cures, early detection, or preventative measures for dementia; and heated arguments about the right of people with dementia to choose assisted dying. All the attention that is given to the issue is a good thing in one way, but the drawback is that we can come to imagine that dementia is the norm in older people. In fact dementia isn’t an inevitable part of growing old. It’s true that it is most common in people aged over 85, but even in this group the majority (about three quarters) do not have dementia.

Dementia has a massive impact on both the person with the condition (about 800,000 people in the UK) and his or her loved ones and carers. ‘Dementia’ is an umbrella term for a number of conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia begins with subtle changes in the ability to solve everyday problems or remember recent events, but over a number of years progressively affects all aspects of life.
The person at first feels as if he has lost his way, and then as if he has lost himself, and all too often he will feel lost to his nearest and dearest. It is a deeply confusing and frightening road to travel, but the journey can be eased significantly if there are fellow travellers.

In recent years professionals and academics have coined the term ‘dementia-friendly community’ to refer to a community that is supportive of those affected by dementia, offering and receiving friendship from the affected person and their loved-ones. For example it has been shown that symptoms of dementia such as memory loss can be improved simply by having more social contacts.

Christian writers have emphasised the way that communities can ‘re-member’ the affected individual so that he or she becomes more fully a person: in the words of Archbishop Tutu, ‘I am because we are’. If this is to happen communities should not simply be places where people with dementia can be included but where they actually belong. You belong to a community if they miss you when you are absent.

This naturally leads to the idea of ‘dementia-friendly congregations’ – something that is capturing the imagination of the national church and also our Diocese. Many churches are doing some wonderful things to ensure that people with dementia continue to belong. In the coming year Spiritual Concern for Older People (SCOP) is hoping to document systematically ministry among older people, including those with dementia, in a representative sample of churches in Oxfordshire. This information will be helpful both for us and for the agencies whose concern is to support neighbourly communities where people can age well.

Meanwhile, we are planning to develop a ‘dementia-friendly church’ award to recognise good practice (suggestions for an appropriate logo welcome). Some of the areas that we might expect to see in a ‘dementia-friendly church’ would include good access, signposting, and welcome; accessible toilets; help with transport needs; convenient service times; user-friendly service sheets; familiar words and music; low-demand community activities, for example singing or coffee mornings; services or other events to celebrate care-giving; links with local care homes; involvement with local community initiatives on dementia; key congregation members having completed some dementia awareness and adult safeguarding training.

Further reading:
Malcolm Goldsmith In a strange land: people with dementia and the local church. 4M Publications (2004).
Eileen Shamy A guide to the spiritual care of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia: More than body, brain and breath. Jessica Kingsley (2003).
John Swinton Dementia: Living in the memories of God. SCM (2012).

Some useful organisations and initiatives

  • The Oxfordshire Dementia Awareness Campaign is organizing a series of events across the county in Banbury on 10th September 2013, Henley on 28th November 2013, Oxford on 21st February 2014, and Witney on 4th April 2014. All are from 1.00-4.00 p.m. Contact 0845 1204048 or odac@guidepoststrust.org.uk
  • Oxfordshire Rural Community Council is running a project for one year which is aimed at making communities more dementia-friendly. They can support you in setting up an awareness raising group or practical project and can provide some information sessions on dementia. Contact: 01865 883488 or orcc@oxonrcc.org.uk
  • Alzheimer’s Society offers lots of resources, activities, and advice. Central and West Area: 0118 959 6482 wcw@alzheimers.org.uk.
  • ‘Dementia friends’ offers training to volunteers who want to support those affected by dementia.
  • Neighbourhood Return is a scheme to co-ordinate local volunteers to return lost people with memory problems. (See the Door, February 2013) Contact 07584 051004 or info@ourturn.org.uk
  • Dementia Adventure is a business (not a charity) that aims to put people with dementia in touch with nature. Tel: 01245 230661.

The Diocese of Oxford

SCOP resource sheets on all aspects of spirituality and ageing are available from Diocesan Church House.
There will be a training day on spirituality and dementia on Saturday 5th October at Richmond Retirement Village, Letcombe Regis, Wantage. For information contact the SCOP advisor on 07583917898 or joanna.collicutt@oxford.anglican.org

Memories Café in Cumnor

A NEW Memories Café is helping people in an Oxfordshire village connect with those suffering from memory problems and dementia.
The café meets fortnightly on Tuesdays in the Parish Centre of St Michael’s Church, Cumnor and was set up after the Revd Pat Bhutta took up an invitation from an Oxfordshire Adult Learning project to form a group to plan how the village could become a better place for those with memory loss problems.
Pat said: “Dementia and memory loss can be taboo subjects that even a caring society avoids and finds hard to engage with. If we find ourselves or someone we love suffering from dementia or memory loss we often find it difficult to share or even admit to our needs. As a result people and their carers can become isolated and have a very poor quality of life.”
Pat held a meeting in her parish with help from Oxfordshire Adult Learning. They ran a quiz to see how much people knew on the subject and began looking at ways of making the community a more dementia friendly place to live. Workshops were held, including one run by SPECAL, a UK Dementia and Alzheimers charity. Fiona Parsons, of SPECAL, raised the question of how you help a relative or friend who can no longer remember where they are or what you have said to them a minute ago. The key to their approach was not to ask questions or contradict but always be aware of and acknowledge the feelings of the person with memory loss.
The Memories Café has an average of 18 visitors each time it meets. Helpers and customers all enjoy homemade cake and sandwiches, tea or coffee and the chance to sit and chat and share memories with new and old friends. During the first session memories liberty bodices and of Oaken Holt as a training centre for Westminster Bank staff were shared over cucumber sandwiches and cake.
More than 30 people came to the first meeting at Cumnor and group of nine helpers now run the Memories Café. For more information about the Cumnor Project contact Pat Bhutta on 01865 865739.

Coming soon: SoulTime Memory Club

Nearly 4 years ago the church family of St Peter and St Paul in Olney gathered to consider the call God had placed upon them and in particular how to share the blessings that God has given them. Through prayer days, away days/weekend, surveys, and working with local agencies it became clear that the church had a mission both personally and corporately to make a positive difference to their community.

Together they dreamt the impossible, sought to harness the blessings and resources that God had bestowed upon them and fashioned a plan of ongoing action.

From this the SoulTime Programme of Projects emerged; a group of projects aimed at helping our community. In reality this meant researching and listening to the needs of our local community, bringing together volunteers and specialists and redeveloping the church hall to make it fit for purpose.

The SoulTime Memory Club will be one of the first projects to go live in the newly refurbished hall. Its aim is to provide support for people suffering with early memory degeneration, to make them feel comfortable and free from stress. The club will offer memory-assistance techniques that will build enjoyment and confidence, and help keep each member as a valued functioning resident of the community for as long as possible.

With estimates that 200-300 people in Olney already have some form of memory degeneration, this club will go some way to remedying the reality that access to good support is not readily available.

Wide support has been received from around the town and Susan Hughes, Chairperson of the Neighbourhood Action Group, helped to capture the reality when she said: “We must ensure that those who unwittingly forget are not forgotten.”

Already the volunteers are in training, connections, referral and assessment processes agreed with local agencies and go-live plans put in place. All that remains is for the doors to open.

For more information on the SoulTime Memory Club or the wider SoulTime programme please check the Olney Parish website. 

 

This is an older post. Please note that the information may not be accurate anymore.