We all need to find ways of creating more inclusive communities for those living with dementia. Churches are ideally placed to make an important response, says Livability’s Associate on Dementia, Charlotte Overton-Hart.
Churches – and other local partners – are right at the heart of their communities and have a great deal to offer those who are living with dementia, their carers and families.
Churches often feel they don’t know where to start, and they don’t have specialist medical knowledge as someone’s dementia progresses. And churches shouldn’t try and provide medical support of course – that’s for the medical profession. But churches can offer helpful support in other ways. Much can be done to walk alongside a person living with dementia and their carer, and not leaving them, even when that person may feel like they’re leaving themselves.
As an intergenerational family, the church can offer friendship both to its own congregation and the wider community. The church is able to say: “You are welcome here. You have a place and a value that can in no way be diminished by the dementia you are living with.”
The current dominant narrative in society tells us that the symptoms of dementia challenge a person’s identity, their very core, thereby diminishing their value. For those with a Christian world-view, knowing that we are all made in the image of God and have inherent value is very powerful. This belief is something that can be lived out by the church and extended to those beyond it too. Everyone matters.
It’s about making existing ministries dementia inclusive. So, for something like a “bring and share” lunch, people can tune into what someone with dementia might need to be part of that lunch. It might be making sure it’s in the diary on the right day or reminding them just before, helping with transport, or adapting things like the way the seating is arranged or how meal preparation is done.
It’s thinking about it not as a challenge “out there” but as everyone’s business because it’s continuing to be family with people. Adjustments to the physical environment can be helpful to everyone, such as providing better lighting, keeping spaces clutter free or creating a quiet area for tea and coffee after the service, for anyone who’d rather not be part of a scrum for drinks!
The trend of chronic loneliness will continue to grow across generations, not just among those living with dementia. And despite what the tabloids say, there are no quick fixes. When people start to give their time, they are often surprised that what they initially perceived as a sacrifice actually leaves them feeling heartened and encouraged – and they have a good time too!
I count some of the times I’ve spent with people living with dementia among my most precious memories. It’s an enormous privilege to be with people who are living in the moment, a real joy and a true gift.
Charlotte Overton-Hart is Livability’s Associate on Dementia. Charlotte has a background in arts and humanities and adult social care and is currently a Reminiscence Facilitator, running sessions both one to one as well as with families and groups. She is developing a tool to help people living with dementia to tell their life story, and is collaborating with a community allotment to run dementia-inclusive gardening sessions throughout the year. Charlotte is currently studying for an MA in Bibliotherapy which explores how stories, poetry and literature can help people who are living with dementia.
Livability offers training services to churches and other Christian organisations that will help them to provide dementia friendly practice.
Livability and Alzheimer’s Society have worked together to create a new church resource, Developing Dementia-Friendly Churches, which offers advice to help churches create welcoming and accessible communities for those living with dementia.
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