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Reform Magazine | October 22, 2019

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How to be a 
dementia-friendly church

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

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This is an extract from the October 2015 edition of Reform.

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Comments

  1. Even before I was me, Jesus Loved me.

    …And as soon as I was born, He continued Loving me even when I didn’t know how to walk with him, talk with him or Love Him back.

    I didn’t know His name, but He knew me.

    I didn’t know how to eat or go to the toilet, get dressed or say ‘Thank You’ to anyone who helped me do any of these things, after all, I was just a baby.

    I do know this though… He was there with me.

    People picked me up, talked to me knowing I wouldn’t understand, they fed me without a word of acknowledgment in return, and they sang songs and read stories of the most wonderful things ever, because I was a baby.

    He stayed with me.

    They kept on talking to me, hoping that eventually, one day I WOULD understand what they were saying and answer them back, but of course being only a baby how could I?

    They cared for me and helped me through tough times whenever I was ill or upset, giving me the medicines that I needed, and the foods to sustain me and help me grow, because I was just a baby.

    They changed my clothes for me and laid me down to sleep in my bed at night, and if I woke up hungry or scared in the dark, they comforted me and settled me back down because I was a baby.

    He was there with me back then, standing over my cot and smiling.

    Life happened… and during that life I learned to walk with Him, I learned to talk with Him, and I accepted Him fully as my Guide.

    I learnt His name.

    He hung around with me through all that, despite some of the stuff I did.

    Then… He sent an Angel to me, who whispered into my ear a single word…

    “Dementia!”

    So, here I am, two thirds of a century old and still He sits with me, still He teaches me and still He shows me His warmth, His light and He persistently and without asking nourishes and re-nourishes my Heart.

    When I forget how to eat or go to the toilet, when I forget how to dress or say ‘Thank You’ to anyone who helps me do any of these things, and when people help me up, talk and keep talking to me even knowing I WONT understand, feed me and clean me without a word of acknowledgment in return, and sing songs and read stories of the most wonderful things ever, care for me and help me through tough times whenever I am ill or upset, giving me the medicines I need, and the foods to sustain me, change my clothes for me and lay me down to sleep in my bed at night, and when I wake up hungry or scared in the dark, comfort me and settle me back down,

    …When I forget ALL these things…

    then I will know… You are with me still, standing over me and smiling.

    Bless all who walk with Dementia and Bless all who walk with YOU LORD!

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