In the 2011 census, the statistics showed that 1 in 5 (22%) Christians in the UK were aged over 65. Of the total 33.2million of people identifying as Christian in this census (59% of the UK population), 7.3million are over the age of 65. This is proportionally higher (by 6%) than the overall UK population. Meaning that there will be a higher number of people in our congregations who are developing and living with dementia than proportionally in general society. It is therefore so important that the church address this issue, understand it and know how to minister effectively to those who develop dementia and know how to support their families.
So often when someone is first diagnosed with dementia they quite rightly have questions like:
Will I forget God?
Will my husband/wife and children feel burden in caring for me?
What about my church, will they still be there for me?
Will I be remembered me when I am too confused or sick to come to services on Sunday?
When I can no longer remember the people from church, will they still come and visit me?
How can I remember God when I get to the point of having trouble remembering things that will have happened yesterday?
Will they continue to pray for me or will the church forget me?
Will I still find hope in the words of the Bible?
Will the church still visit me and share communion with me?
Our Church Leaders and Lay Pastoral teams must begin to bear these questions in mind and learn how to minister to people through all stages of dementia.
Following an initial diagnosis, it can be really worrying for the person diagnosed as they begin to investigate what dementia could mean. They often start looking at all areas of their life and begin to think what dementia will mean for this area. If they are heavily involved in a church community part of their identity is built on things like being ‘Anne of the Kitchen Team’.
We must try and find ways to protect this part of their identity for as long as possible.
It is essential that the church is geared up to support this individual if we are to continue to reflect the love of God fully. Church Leaders need to be prepared to help answer questions above and share the hope that God offers.
God promises in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from His love and in Deuteronomy and Hebrews that ‘He will never leave or forsake you’.
We need to reassure that the church also will be there with the same promises.
This is particularly important when Church Leaders move on to other churches as it is so easy for these people who can no longer make it to church to fall through the gaps at handover.
Ministry to those living with dementia is the most humbling form of ministry as the person you are ministering to will forget you, sometimes right after the visit. Even though this is the case it is essential that you continue to visit, continue to pray with them, continue to share communion with them and maybe even continue to sing hymns with them.
Although your visit maybe forgotten, how you leave the person feeling will be remembered far longer.
Your love and continued support brings great comfort and help not just to the person living with dementia but also to the caregiver (often a husband, wife or child) and a wider witness to those who know the person.