Care can mean a lot of different things to different people. Let’s consider, for a moment, how we help take care of someone’s spiritual life when they have dementia. For many of us our spiritual paths are important aspects of our life. For many of us our beliefs about spirituality are also the foundation of our life. What happens when someone is living with dementia? How do we help them continue a spiritual practice, and how can we celebrate their spiritual life?
Spirituality & Dementia
When someone begins experiencing brain change, one of the first things that families do is stop going to their community of faith. This can make someone feel marginalized and isolated. Why does this happen? Because services and gatherings of people can become overwhelming for many reasons, including having to be able to follow instructions, behaving in ways that are considered to be appropriate, remembering the names of people that you know you should remember, and a general feeling of not being able to navigate a complicated social setting.
Families tend to pull back from services because it’s difficult to find people who understand the complexities and difficulties that can accompany dementia, such as making mistakes in social settings and having trouble remembering words and names. These are some of the realities of dementia and yet this reality also provides us with an opportunity to practice some of our faith traditions such as compassion and the sacredness of life.
After interviewing many people living with dementia, I found that there are both challenges and opportunities for communities of faith to help continue the experience of spirituality for people living with dementia.
Dementia & Faith Challenges
- Sensory overload
- Confusion with instructions and routines
- Remembering names
- Sitting for an extended period of time
- Social norms
- Time awareness
- Understanding dialogue
- Making mistakes and feeling inferior
People living with dementia can experience sensory overload in communities of faith because of all the information that is happening at one time. For example, walking up to receive communion or some other ritual will include sights, sounds, smells, tastes and require physical action. Putting all these things together and or sorting through all this information can be over whelming. The sound of music and people talking, air conditioners running, and paper being shuffled can become noise when someone has a difficult time being able to figure out all the sounds that they hear. Furthermore, sitting for an extended time can seem too long for someone having difficulty with comprehension and for someone who has a different sense of how time feels. Communities of faith also have different expected social norms, such as remembering names, routines and rituals, which can be difficult for someone with dementia and make them feel inferior.
Dementia & Faith Opportunities
There are many things that people living with dementia are still able to do. The key is to find these things and support them! Consider the following:
- Providing respite for the family by having someone support the person living with dementia during the service.
- Offer alternative services
- Educate the community
- Use familiar music (old hymns using only the first two verses which most people know without having to read the words)
- Use more visual cueing and instructions
- Making a safe space where mistakes are ok
Because, as those of us who travel a spiritual path know, our spirit continues to be whole and beautiful regardless of the limitations of this life and even after this life is over. Therefore, we have a wonderful opportunity to watch this belief in motion. Orchard at Brookhaven will provide many opportunities to continue your spiritual life while living in this community. Some of these will include:
- Opportunities to attend services on site and in the local community
- Engage in service projects
- Be involved in practices such as mediation and yoga
- Music groups
- Prayer groups
- Discussion groups
Having a spiritual practice has been determined to help overall health. Orchard at Brookhaven is committed to helping you stay connected to your practice. Please contact us to learn more or schedule a tour of our community.