Find out as much as you can about dementia Learning as much as you can about the condition will help you be prepared and know how to best support and communicate with the person as the illness progresses. Complete a Dementia Friends Awareness session so that you can become a Dementia Friend as this will really help you understand dementia and how it impacts a person.
Realise that a dementia diagnosis is not a death sentence. Many people with the disease live more than 20 years following diagnosis. Take advantage of the time you have and don’t look to exclude them at the earliest possible moment. It is really important for the church to feel a safe and supportive place for both the person living with dementia and their carer who is often a husband or wife.
Give them independence when possible. As tempting as it may be to remove them from all roles in the church, it is important for them to do as many things as possible by himself or herself, even if you need to provide someone to support them as they carry out the activity. Try and keep them connected in to the church community for as long as possible.
Be realistic in your expectations Have a realistic expectation about what the person with dementia can and can’t do and learn to expect the unexpected. The symptoms of dementia mean that it can be difficult and sometimes unpredictable when you are trying to spend time with a person living with dementia. Remember it is more important to leave the person feeling happy, welcome and content than to achieve anything
The disease is responsible for any mood and personality changes. It can be so hard to watch someone change before your eyes. Remember that they are not changing, but the disease is progressing causing those changes in them.
Develop predictable routines, schedules and service patterns when ministering to them. As the disease progresses it is more important than ever to have set routines when involving the person in groups and regular set service liturgical patterns. This helps to eliminate confusion and frustration for the person living with dementia. Try and keep any visits on the same day at the same time, making sure they write it down on their calendar.
Don’t argue about forgotten memories Arguing about a forgotten memory will only upset the person living with dementia and will frustrate you. Be willing to let most things go. It doesn’t matter. It is far more important that you continue to share the love of Christ in a real loving and supportive way than to be right.
Meet them in the now. Don’t try to change the person back to who they once were. Grieve the loss if you were close and then love them as they are today
Remember that they can remember emotions even after they forget the actual event that caused those emotions. Your actions and how they leave the person feeling are really important. Don’t think it’s ok if they’re upset as they won’t remember. The feelings and emotions stay around even if the person cannot remember why they are upset or happy. Always try and leave them happy when you leave.
Remember the person is more than the disease. When someone is diagnosed with dementia it can be devastating to them and their loved ones. Hold on to who you know they are, before the diagnosis and love them in the now.
Use every method of communication to reach them throughout the disease. This can be so important especially when you are doing any kind of work that is particularly focused on those with dementia in your congregation. Use art, music, reading, the sense of smell and touch to connect with those who you find verbal expression may no longer an option. Even a simple touch on their arm can help communicate that they are loved and accepted.
Have fun! The person with dementia can still have fun and laugh. This is so important. Don’t always be serious treat them how you would anyone else in your congregation even if you don’t think they are responding.
Ministering to those who are living with dementia can be the most humbling yet rewarding form of ministry as they will often forget who you are. Your support will be invaluable to the primary carer and by being supportive you will help the person living with dementia maintain their dignity and identity.