“Have you ever been caught off guard by the challenge of giving care to a parent, a spouse or a child in the midst of your busy life?” Carolyn asks on her congregation’s blog. “It is no secret that chronic illness affects the entire family. It comes into the home like an uninvited guest and it takes a team effort to learn to adjust to changes and frustrations.”
Carolyn believes that church members with dementia and their caregivers provide other members an opportunity to show grace, love and caring hearts. She offers the following ideas for those who want to be part of a team of congregational caring.
- Go easy on offering information about anticipated needs for later stage Alzheimer’s. Sharing too soon the details of progression can be depressing and overwhelm the caregiver. Better to provide resources caregivers can use right now, and let them know where to learn more as the disease progresses.
- Invite staff from a memory assisted living facility to lead an open information session in the congregation about dementia and caregiving.
- Give caregivers a break by offering to provide or arrange respite care for the loved one.
- Draw on experienced caregivers who can be a great resource to those new to the role of caregiving.
- Continue to include the person with dementia in worship. Offer to assist in bringing the person to worship or ask for communion to be brought to the person.
- Seek advice from a nurse, therapist, or other care professional on how to make effective, non-threatening visits. I like to ask what was meaningful in their past Christian experience and then affirm their response.
When providing communion, anointing, or presence to someone with advanced dementia, remember that old memories stay the longest. Hold the hand or cradle the shoulders and simply sing “Jesus Loves Me,” a song that speaks a powerful message for all ages and levels of understanding.
- While a person is still able to understand and appreciate it, plan a celebration to recognize past services, duties or leadership that the person has had to give up. For anyone confronted with Alzheimer’s disease, the process is life-altering and devastating. For both persons with loss of memory and their families, one of the most difficult effects is the loss of dignity. Such a service of recognition is a wonderful way to affirm dignity.
- Since persons with dementia lose executive function and planning skills, leadership positions may become difficult and embarrassing. Rather, encourage participation through small groups, Christian Education classes, senior exercise groups, or meal fellowship as they are able.
- Offer the congregation ways to learn about protecting against disease through healthy practices such as mental exercises, stress reduction through prayer and meditation, good quality sleep, exercise, and consuming real foods with high quality nutrients.
Powerful Tools for Caregivers
Toll free phone help: Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, 866-AFA-8484
Carolyn Stoll attends Bahia Vista Mennonite Church, Sarasota, Florida, where she served as parish nurse for many years.