Spiritual Care of those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

faith alzheimer'sDementia steals many things… but it cannot steal God.

Faith & Alzheimer’s

For someone of faith, Alzheimer’s and dementia does not end a person’s faith journey or relationship with a loving, comforting God. In coming blog entries, family members, professionals and others will have the opportunity to get a glimpse into why continuing a life of faith and spiritual practices for those with dementia is not only possible, but can improve quality of life, decrease anxiety, promote a sense of connection and help draw people out of the isolation that so prevalent.

More additional stories and practical ideas for continued spiritual life while living with dementia, I have written a book as well, “Do This, Remembering Me: Spiritual Care of those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.” 

Excerpt from “Do this, Remembering Me”:

The first time it happened I cried, then laughed, then asked myself, “What just happened?” The first time a patient with Alzheimer’s made a spiritual connection in my presence – moving out of darkness into light, moving out of loneliness to togetherness, moving out of despair into calm –I knew I had witnessed something miraculous, and I was hooked. Thus began a journey to learn how to provide spiritual care to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. God was “still there” for them and I was determined to find ways to help them “remember” God’s presence, the One who calls them beloved.  These are some of my first teachers, through whom God spoke. God said, “Pay attention, they have much to teach.” And so I listened.

ALLIE’S STORY

I visited Allie at the nursing home one afternoon when I was researching how those with memory impairment responded to visual queues of faith. Allie was a cheerful woman in her 90’s and couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds. Her family had said she was a woman of deep faith and would probably enjoy saying some prayers.

To visit with Allie, I had brought colorful pictures of Jesus, several kinds of crosses, candles, even a Russian stacking doll of the Holy Family. I had church hymns playing on a CD player I had brought in. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” I showed Allie a child’s picture book of Bible stories with bright colors of Noah’s Ark, sheep and The Good Shepherd, angles on high. She didn’t respond much to the pictures. I tried to begin prayer making the sign of the cross – “In the name of the Father, and of the Son …” but Allie didn’t follow along and was more interested in the hem of her sweatshirt.

“I then took out a beautiful silver cross to show Allie.”

I then took out a beautiful silver cross to show Allie. I didn’t say anything, just let Allie touch it. It was cold from having been out in my car trunk all night.  After turning the cross this way and that, Allie paused. A strange look came over her face that turned into a silly, somewhat coy, smile. It seemed to me she was remembering something very pleasant. And suddenly Allie exclaimed excitedly, looking at the cross, “Yes, all that and regular sex too!”/blockquote>

Well, I will never know (and perhaps don’t want to know?) what Allie remembered that day, but by the look on her face it was a very happy and pleasant memory. When I relayed this story to a colleague, she reminded me that in pious Catholic families of Allie’s era, they would have had a crucifix hanging over their bed, they would have knelt by the bedside to say bedtime prayers and probably blessed themselves before getting into bed. Hmm? God’s grace is indeed amazing.

GOD DOES NOT FORGET

What I learned from Allie and the numerous other adults with memory loss I’ve had the privilege to care for, is that for people of faith Alzheimer’s and dementia cannot erase God’s imprint. When everything else is crumbling around them, God remains in tack and is very present which makes complete sense because faith has always been something only understood with the heart and not the head. <

I look forward to telling more stories in the space.