So many primary carers (often husbands, wives or children) have told us that their faith and their loved one’s faith has been a real strength in the journey of dementia. When times get hard for the carer they can turn to God and so often find strength and peace even in the midst of the difficulties going on around them. Some have said that even just putting on some worship music or hymns in the background when they or the person living with dementia are struggling they feel an instant lightness.
It seems that having faith in God can really help to make sense of what is going on where otherwise there is no sense at all. A carers faith can bring with it a renewed sense of purpose; a reason to keep going when there seems no hope or sense to keeping going. Faith gives an inner strength and assurance that they are not going through this alone and when a church is fully supportive and engaged the burden is shared. So often for those who are not part of a church family find loneliness and isolation soon begin to bring despair. It is so important for churches and the church leaders to ensure that members of their congregations who begin to be impacted by dementia do not drop off the radar as this is the time that they need the church the most.
A number of studies have been carried out that have looked into the association between faith and dementia and some of the findings support this view. Some suggesting that carers with a strong faith belief system might even have a better relationship with the person they care for. One small study even concluded that caregivers who had a faith in God found that it helped them cope and that they had lower levels of depression.
One of the most significant benefits of having faith in God is that it can make some of the challenges and difficulties of the dementia journey a little easier. Many carers who have a faith don’t seem to struggle quite so much with the why? questions. Instead, they choose to trust that, however unfair it feels it is part of a ‘bigger plan’. Even though they may not understand why, they trust that God is working for good and He is there with them through this. This brings a level of peace which is not found in those who are supporting those living with dementia who do not have a faith.
This is not to say that this is always an easy journey. Those with faith often find that it is tested to the limit and this is where good pastoral care from their church is essential.
Faith and being a member of a local church has a number of key benefits, but it needs the church and its leader to prioritise the love and support for those who are on the dementia journey, whether a carer, a family member or the person with dementia. It is so important to recognise that all of these people are impacted and needs additional love and support.
So what are the benefits of being a member of a church and what should church leaders focus on in order to best support those who find themselves part of a dementia journey?
Provide good pastoral care
Keeping someone connected into the family of the church is so important and sometimes is the first thing that falls away. Those who find themselves on the dementia journey need to feel that they are not alone. Just a phone call or a visit makes all the difference. In fact, some research on what caregivers say they need from their church said “The number one response that I got over and over again was presence,” it goes on to say “They would tell me things like, ‘I would just love to have a phone call, from somebody from the church, to check in on me and to see how I was doing.’ What they were saying was they didn’t really need some elaborate intervention or something complicated, but they wanted to feel as if they had somebody to go with them on this journey.”
Faith brings hope
Faith in God can provide a way of looking at the situation in a different way. This can bring a sense of belonging, identity and safety in a very difficult time. This also helps to lessen fear and worry and brings peace. It is so important for church leaders to ensure that they are there through this time and help people to understand the theological truths of God’s presence through the storms of life.
Church services and groups can be a great way to keep people connected and to lessen the feeling of being alone. Many churches already have a strong social life. However, dementia can bring some additional challenges on how to keep people connected. Churches who understand these challenges and have committed to remaining accessible for as long as possible really help. The first step we always recommend is for church leaders and group leaders to attend Dementia Friends Awareness sessions. This really helps them to understand some of the challenges and how to address them. Churches aim to be caring and supportive in tough times, but sometimes don’t know the best way to achieve this. Keeping services and groups aimed at older people accessible for those with dementia is a great first step and needs very little adjustment, just some understanding. Faith provides comfort and perhaps you could worship together? Being able to practise their faith can be very reassuring and calming for someone with dementia. Visiting a church, they’re familiar with can is beneficial; the sights, sounds and smells of a religious service are often very comforting. So is singing hymns, listening to familiar readings or saying prayers. Setting up groups and services that are specifically aimed at those with dementia is a little more challenging, but we can help with this and is often best done with other churches in your local area.
Provide practical support Churches often have the means to provide day to day support for people with dementia, including help with transport and meals. And if they can’t help, they are also pretty good at signposting to other services who can. The church is not the ‘social services’ or a ‘formal care provider’. However, as a loving family should be there when a member of their body is going through a hard time. Try and find out what you can do to help.