No two people experience dementia in exactly the same way. What may be a help for one person may not be for another. Dr Jennifer Bute – a keynote speaker at Livability’s ‘Creativity and the Dementia Friendly Church’ event last November – offers ten ways to overcome the ‘no one-size-fits-all’ approach when considering what churches can do to journey alongside people who are living with dementia, as well as those affected by it.
1. Believe people living with dementia can still walk with God and be spiritually alive.
People living with dementia are still able to learn and still have something worthwhile to contribute even if there needs to be some help to facilitate this.
2. Provide a warm, inclusive welcome for everyone.
Have friendly people introduce themselves with context and who will be willing to sit alongside the person living with dementia if they are alone.
3. Ensure the service has a clear structure.
Avoid unexpected or unannounced happenings and participation – for example moving into small groups, having to go up to the front, or lighting a candle.
4. Provide a role for the person.
Many people living with dementia are still able to read a Bible passage aloud so they can contribute, even if the passage has to be typed out in a large font. Some people might like to help with pouring teas and coffees, while others may enjoy helping with creche if they are mobile enough.
5. Include familiar hymns or tunes.
The use of a projection screen is also recommended, removing the need to find one’s way around books. The Lord’s Prayer and liturgy needs to be in a familiar format or the words shown on the screen, as some people may find the new translations difficult.
6. Try to keep the noise before the service to a minimum.
This means no last minute loud band practice, or children running up and down the aisle screaming. There should also be a quiet space where the person living with dementia can regroup, if necessary.
7. Some people living with dementia appreciate crosses and candles.
Those of a non-Anglican background may be confused by these if they are too prominent, though don’t assume either way.
8. The sermon needs to have one clear simple point.
The person living with dementia could be overwhelmed with multiple messages to digest, even if more is offered for others within the same sermon.
9. The church needs to be willing to accept interruptions.
Some people may walk around during the service. This is less likely if there is someone familiar sitting with them or they are in their favourite spot in the church.
10. Make socialising after the service as easy as possible.
If there are refreshments served after the service it may be confusing for people living with dementia to find them or to compete with a group of unfamiliar people in a queue. It would be much easier and more appreciated for someone to bring the refreshments to the person living with dementia.
Dr Jennifer Bute is a retired GP who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease aged 63. She is a campaigner and regular speaker at events, and through her Christian faith she sees dementia as a Glorious Opportunity, while acknowledging the challenges it brings. Jennifer is able to provide ‘a doctor’s perspective on dementia, from the inside’.