There is so much stigma attached to dementia because of the unknown that so often a diagnosis triggers in a church paralysis in action resulting in early isolation to the person diagnosed and their carer from community life. This needs to be broken as people with dementia can still ‘live well’ especially with some additional support and care. Below are several tips which can help to break down this stigma.
Expand your knowledge a little, so that you can help in practical ways. Speak to someone from the Dementia Friendly Church project who can come and help the leaders understand Dementia and arrange to run Dementia Friends Awareness information sessions for groups and group leaders in your congregation.
Don’t be afraid to talk about dementia and say you understand it.
This will help people to face the issue and will open conversations. How can you support a person with dementia if they are scared to mention the illness? There are so many ways churches can support people who are diagnosed with dementia to help them stay connected in with their church family and friends.
Be intentional in ministry to those who develop dementia. Ensure that the set-up of all your groups for older people ensures they are accessible for those who develop dementia. The adjustments needed are minimal but can have a massive impact on those who are diagnosed. Also ensure that your Pastoral support structures are in place for those with dementia and their carers (often a husband or wife who will be heavily impacted).
Take one step at a time. Maybe start by finding someone in your church who would like to become a dementia coordinator. Set up some Dementia Friends Awareness information sessions. The main key to becoming a Dementia Friendly church is about awareness in the wider congregation. Once this is done we find that new initiatives or adjustments being made to groups is becomes self-incubating.
Be there. You don’t need to be an expert in all things dementia to minister and support people with a diagnosis. Some of the most powerful things we can do as a church is just to bring simple love, support and acceptance to the person who has dementia and their carer. Staying with them as the different stages develop and ensuring that they are never left adrift and isolated is so important. Hearing their pain, recognising what they are going through, and knowing enough to do some simple signposting can make a big difference.
Work with other churches. You’re not in this alone as a church. Currently, 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 will develop dementia. This means that in many churches where the demographic is older there is a need for support for these people. Why not work together with other local churches to develop support networks, groups and services specifically looking at caring and providing for those with dementia. This means that your personal time input can be shared.