Why is spiritual care for elders with dementia so rare?

I’ve been pondering why I don’t see very much spiritual care happening for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Despite research that seniors with dementia value and benefit from spiritual care, I haven’t come across very many people or places that actually provide it. Why?

There are probably numerous reasons, but I think the main disconnect is that few people feel adequately equipped in both realms: the ability and gifting to minister spiritually and the ability to interact with and care for those with dementia.

Bridging two worlds

bridge--LucaTheSimon-2265095_1280-PixabayI know many people with wonderful theological and pastoral gifts—they know their Bible, they know how to listen, care, and pray for people, and their hearts are loving and good as they seek to meet people’s needs in Jesus’ name. And I know other people who step into the Alzheimer’s world with care and compassion, and who are at ease with practical tools for dealing with the disease—how to speak and interact, and what to say (or not say).

But in my experience it’s rare for someone to have both skill sets: wisdom in spiritual leadership and the ability to interact with those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. A church deacon may know how to lead a Bible devotion, but they’re unsure how to do that for people with dementia. Conversely, a volunteer may know how to interact with an elder who’s confused and frustrated, but they don’t feel comfortable exploring spiritual issues, leading a church service, or facilitating a scripture discussion.

It’s my prayer and wish to equip people with every possible tool to meet the spiritual needs of elders, especially those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. I’ve started with the Bible discussion guides and worship services posted on this site for free, along with articles like Why–and How–to Lead a Memory-Care Worship Service and How to Lead a Bible Study for Elders with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. I know there’s a lot more, and I’m excited to continue exploring.

Are you called?

Then there’s the idea of “calling.” It’s not impossible to go through the motions of spiritual care simply by using these practical tools. But I believe having one’s own spiritual connection is absolutely key. This kind of work goes beyond the human realm—it is infused and led by the Spirit of God, so it’s crucial to have your own personal connection to the Spirit. Leading these people every week is a profound spiritual practice for me, not just for those in my care.

For example, I could use a worship agenda and go through it every week with elders, and I don’t doubt that it would do them some good because the scriptures and songs themselves would meet them in their inner being. But I believe leading while worshipping with the group leads to a more genuine, powerful experience for both of us.

If this kind of work speaks to your heart, let me assure you, it is beautiful. Even in the midst of a brain-ravaging disease, people respond to things of the Spirit—because the spirit is always, always alive. Even when we forget, God never forgets us; God is always speaking, reaching, loving, reminding, blessing, calling, comforting, encouraging, leading, and loving his children. It just takes some specialized tools to effectively access those realities when someone is cognitively impaired.

What are your thoughts on this? What tools and resources do you find helpful in drawing out the spiritual lives of those with dementia? I’d love to hear your opinions, so please comment below.

Peace be with you,

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Photo by Luca Mattioli

3 thoughts on “Why is spiritual care for elders with dementia so rare?

  1. Paula Classey says:

    I do have a calling to work with people living in long term care with dementia. You are right in saying there are so few resources to access. I found your sight a few years ago and very much appreciate your “heart” in providing resources to others.

    I try to provide my own service each week that I write but sometimes I struggle with that. During covid especially I have used your video services for Sunday service and have recomended them to another activation worker who facilitates in another part of the building.

    I appreciate your professional production, simple presentation and content but also that you don’t “dumb it down”.

    I also use your sing along hymn slides a lot during the week. I use them for services as during covid we don’t have a piano player. I often do a pop up sing along and put your slides up to sing to. The keys are comfortable, the visual is easy on the eye and uncluttered and the variety is excellent, not to mention the voices that are on the audio to sing along to. I love this resource and say thank you every day for it. I even have it loaded on my Ipad that I use for one on one visits and have private sing alongs with individuals. We have one man who loves to sing and have put your music on his Ipad. He wanders all day singing the hymns and other sing alongs on you tube. His favorite is yours.

    I also do a Bible Study in our retirement living lodge. My little group of 10 love your Bible Studies and we find the questions bring us to deeper thought on the passage. I have asked often if they want something else or if this resource speaks to them. They always tell me how much they enjoy the Bible Studies and get good things out of them. I pass the script on to a lady in long term care who is completely deaf but still has her mind in tact. She really enjoys doing these Bible Studies on her own and will comment to me some of her thoughts on what she has studied when I visit her one on one. She used to develop Bible Studies to mentor non believers in her commmunity. She in turn shares the scripts from you that I have passed to her with a couple of people she contacts on email. So, the word goes forth.

    I want to thank you for being so willing to provide and develop these resources to share. I visit your website several times a week and appreciate the content.

    Sending a huge thanks!
    Paula Classey, Spiritual Care provider at Summit Place, Owen Sound, Ontario

    Like

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