How to be a dementia-friendly church
There are 850,000 people with dementia living in the UK – a figure increasing by 15,000 a year. Rosie Barker and Louise Morse offer advice on creating a welcoming environment
Spiritual support is vital for Christians who develop dementia. Their core values and beliefs form the basis of their identity, including their identity in Christ. Yet, often, because of difficulties with social interactions and a lack of understanding about the condition amongst members of their fellowship, they and their caregivers stop going to church and can drop off the radar altogether.
The challenge then is how to make our churches truly dementia-friendly to meet the needs of the growing number of Christians who will develop dementia.
• Make a commitment. We’re told to love one another – we shouldn’t even need to think twice about whether or not to become dementia-friendly. But it will not happen by accident, so we should be proactive, asking the question: “How do we do this?” People with dementia belong to God and remain part of the body of Christ. Together, we share the joys, sorrows, stresses and blessings which belong to family life. After diagnosis, people with dementia need to continue to enjoy church life, including worship and fellowship, so that their spiritual needs can continue to be met.
• Understand how important church is for people with dementia. Deep calls to deep; the ambience, the liturgy and the Holy Spirit minister to the believer with dementia very deeply. In our church, we rarely get an outburst from someone with dementia – they are peaceful. One chap sometimes falls asleep on his buddy’s shoulder, and wakes up in time to sing the last hymn! Attending their own church should be an experience that reassures them and reminds them of God’s love, as well as their past and present blessings. They may be struggling with anxiety, poor short-term memory and unpredictable behaviour, so, attending a church where the place and people are familiar, and where they will be reminded of their special relationship with God, is vital…
Rosie Barker managed a Christian care home. She now trains dementia carers in emotional intelligence and runs a support group. Lousie Morse is media and communications manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. Her books on dementia include Dementia: Pathways to hope (Monarch, November 2015, £7.99). For more information on this topic, visit pilgrimsfriend.org.uk or call 0300 303 1400
This is an extract from the October 2015 edition of Reform.