When someone begins to develop dementia, it is important for the church not to forget the carer. This will often be a husband, wife, child, family member or friend who suddenly finds themselves in a role that they are neither prepared for or ever expected to have to do. This will often lead to them feeling out of their depth, frustrated, isolated and not having time for themselves. These feelings will in many cases become more prevalent as the illness progresses and the person living with dementia needs more care and attention.
If you have a pastoral care team, ensure they are aware of the situation and ensure that the carers name is added to their lists. If not try and ensure that you don’t forget the carer in your visits.
A visit is so important as it keeps both the carer and the person living with dementia connected into the church. There is likely to be a time where they will not be able to make it on a regular basis to church as the dementia progresses, but this is the time when they need the church the most. Try and ensure that you are regularly visiting and supporting at this time.
One of the biggest challenges many carers face is being able to pay attention to their own needs. This can include them recognising their own signs of stress or depression, seeking help, keeping hospital and doctor’s appointments, eating a healthy diet and even making it to church groups that they have been involved in for many years.
Being involved in groups and church is so important and if you can facilitate ways to ensure that this can continue it is a real benefit for the carer. Often in smaller church groups, lunch clubs and after services is where many people find natural support, help and the prayer they need. It’s these times of support that help the carer feel better, feel less alone and can also help them to care better.
What practical things can you do to help?
Before suggesting some ideas, it is important to say that the best way to ensure that any support you offer practically actually helps is to ask what will help. I know it sounds obvious but if you start bringing meals every week when the family have arranged meals on wheels it’s not much help.
It is also important to remember that what helps can change as the illness progresses and becomes more demanding. Don’t just set something up and think ‘tick’ done. You will only see problems if you remain close to them and regularly visit and support.
Also, be aware that some people will not ask for help as a matter of pride. If you are seeing someone really struggle because of pride, try and suggest ways to help.
Practical ways to help could be:-
· Organise a rota where someone cooks for them (even taking the burden off once a week will really be of benefit).
· Can you arrange for someone to sit with the person living with dementia to provide some degree of respite for the carer? Time for the carer to look after some of their personal needs is sometimes their biggest challenge, so if you can find a way of helping to free this time it will be so appreciated. Even if it gives them a chance to go and get a haircut or pick up a prescription it may be the only chance they have had to get out of the house that week. Note: as the illness progresses this may be a bit more complicated so be aware that there may be a time where you cannot help in this way. Also be aware that the person living with dementia should be treated as a vulnerable adult ensure that you follow your Safeguarding processes.
· Bring church to them, what this looks like depends on them. Could home group be in their home if everyone brings tea, coffee, cakes. Share home communion.
· Ensure that someone regularly visits
· Can a rota to help keep the house and garden clean and up together be organised?
· Can you help provide lifts to appointments?
This can be a hard time for the carer and anything the church can do to help will be really appreciated.