A Dementia Friendly service needs to recognise where the people living with Dementia are in their lives. It needs to consider that their attention span may not be as long as others and that at times some individuals may seem disruptive by wanting to get up and wander around or be quite vocal and ask things like ‘when can I have a cup of tea’. Whilst I can often sympathise with the second of these statements, this service is for them and we need to be patient, loving and supportive.
Below are just three principles to help you in running a Dementia Friendly Service:-
Be warm, personal, interactive. This involves ensuring that your focus remains on the individuals present. Try to stay on the level of those attending, maintaining direct eye contact, use individual’s names. It can also be good to gently touch arms and hands in a reassuring way when interacting one on one.
This is not a service to introduce complicated theological points and multi point sermons. Try and find ways of incorporating the use of all the senses in the service. Large colourful images, pass around things that smell like fresh herbs and link all to a simple theme.
This is a humbling ministry where following the service those attending may forget the service, may forget you but, will remember how you left them feeling. They will know if they have met with God.
Keep it Simple and Familiar
Keep the service structure simple, meet in the same place each time you meet, using familiar words and hymns, keeping the service structure repetitive around a single theme. If not meeting in a church building, try and set up a familiar scene that says ‘church’. A table covered in a cloth with a cross on. Use a Bible that is a translation that was used when the attendees would have been young and that has the look of an old-fashioned Bible.
Include familiar songs and hymns (singing is good for the brain and it is often through singing that you will see the most interaction). If the hymns or songs are long why not use only the first verse and chorus.
If your tradition uses liturgical forms use ones from the time when the attendees would have been in church when they were younger. However, try and keep liturgical lead and response to a minimum as some of those attending may not have the capacity to respond. The service should be a maximum of twenty minutes long. Use worship vocabulary from the past, such as "debts" or "trespasses" in the Lord's Prayer.
Reinforce a Theme
The third principle involves reinforcing the worship theme from service notices and announcements, handouts, hymns, prayers, short message and any other interactive service elements that you may choose to include (e.g. Theme Jesus light of the world and lighting a candle).
Ensure that any handouts include the words of any liturgical lead and response, prayers and the songs printed in a large font and information about the meaning of the activity in the service. Use images in these sheets which reinforce the theme of the service and that can guide the person living with dementia in what is coming.
The goal of every part of the service including the handouts is to enable persons living with dementia to worship God at a level that they would not usually reach through traditional worship services.