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 s/he has lost their way, and then as if s/he has lost her/himself, and all too often will feel lost to their 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. 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 wonderful things to ensure that people with dementia continue to belong — memory cafés, worship in care homes with those with dementia, drop-ins for those with dementia and their carers.
God of hope and resurrection,
you know us better than we know ourselves,
and draw us to peace and wholeness in your love.
We remember before you
those who are unable to remember their own lives.
Guard and treasure their lost memories for them,
and hold their past in your safe hands,
that when the death of the body comes,
you may bring them to the full life of the resurrection,
restore and heal the memories of their lives,
and give them back to themselves,
that we with them may rejoice in your love,
and find the fullness of life in your presence,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Thinking of You by Joanna Collicutt — a resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia.
Dementia, Living in the Memories of God by John Swinton
In a Strange Land: People with dementia and the local church by Malcolm Goldsmith
Find Out More
Dementia Friends — offers training to volunteers who want to support those affected by dementia.
The Alzheimers Society — offering a range of support and advice, and working for policy change in public life.
Age UK — offers dementia support in your area.
Dementia Adventure — a business (not a charity) that aims to put people with dementia in touch with nature.
Arts 4 Dementia — arts opportunities to empower people affected by dementia in the community.
Building Dementia Friendly Churches — a short YouTube video about the programme which began as a collaboration between the Professor of Values in Health and Social Care at Staffordshire University and the Diocese of Lichfield.