Ministering to the Forgotten Sheep
By Wayne and Sandra Nieman
Dementia or Alzheimer (the leading cause of dementia) can be the most dreaded diagnosis in the western culture. It is right up there with cancer or heart disease. Statistics by the World Health Organization estimates that 50 million people are currently living with a dementia. They project this number to increase to 75 million by 2030. Since dementia is typically progressive and will cause the individual to lose their ability to function in their everyday endeavors, it should cause alarm. What we have to ask, should it alarm the church?
As every area of our world is somehow impacted by dementia, likewise the church is not exempt. Assuredly, there are men and women in our churches suffering from dementia as well as family members who are desperate for answers on how to walk alongside their loved ones as they travel this journey. This blog came about from our personal journey with my dad who died from Alzheimer’s on March 18, 2017. After my dad was diagnosed, Wayne and I were determined to care for my dad and mom. We often found ourselves, along with my mom, alone with no guidance or help as we struggled to care for his needs. We stumbled and at times failed miserably with our attempts to give him the best help in his desperate time of hardship. We also became aware that this is an often-neglected area of the church.
It is our goal is to provide biblical support to those in the early stages of dementia as well as those family members who suffer while they helplessly watch their loved-one decline. Also, we want to alert believers of this great need and ministry.
What is Dementia?
The best answer to this question is found at the Alzheimer’s Association website (alz.org). It states: “Dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, it is a word used to describe a range of symptoms such as a decline in memory, understanding of information, reasoning/judgement, focus/attention, and communication/language. While there are many factors that can cause dementia, the three most common causes are:
- Alzheimer’s Disease – 60% – 80%
- Vascular Dementia – occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type
- Lewy Bodies-memory loss and thinking problems common in Alzheimer’s but are more likely to have initial or early symptoms such as sleep disturbances, well-formed visual hallucinations, and slowness, gait imbalance or other parkinsonian movement features.”[i]
Most people today think of dementia as simply forgetfulness or just getting older. While dementia typically strikes people who are elderly, it can strike at a much younger age. Plus, while a person may have forgetful moments, dementia symptoms rob individuals of their ability to function in their everyday world. Imagine losing the ability to do the activities a person loves to do such as cooking, traveling, or socializing with friends. As the symptoms progress, simple tasks such as brushing teeth, shaving, putting on clothing appropriately become an overwhelming chore. A big concern my mom had for dad was making sure he did not put toothpaste in his hair or shave his eyebrows. To him this seemed to be a reasonable way to take care of his hygiene. He could not wow our family with his delicious barbecue chicken but needed my mom to prepare his food and then feed him. He wanted to help with cleanup in the kitchen, but that meant taking a dirty dish, drying it with a towel, and then putting it in the cupboard. He tried so desperately to be a contributing part of our family, but was met with “no dad, here let me do it”. Dementia stole his personality, his independence, his life.
Dementia is triggered by brain cell damage. My father was diagnosed was Alzheimer’s, the #1 contributor to dementia. This disease caused nerve cells (mostly the neurons) to gradually die and tissue loss throughout his brain. This destruction of cells was progressive, and it caused my dad to lose his ability to communicate his needs or wants. We also saw his behavior to drastically change like a roller coaster ride from unexplained anger on to being anxious or depressed. This was not like my dad that I always looked up to.
The Alzheimer’s Association gives this wise warning: “Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse. If you or a loved one is experiencing memory difficulties or other changes in thinking skills, don’t ignore them. See a doctor soon to determine the cause.Professional evaluation may detect a treatable condition. And even if symptoms suggest dementia, early diagnosis allows a person to get the maximum benefit from available treatments and provides an opportunity to volunteer for clinical trials or studies. It also provides time to plan for the future.”[ii]
As family and friends of a loved one with dementia, we must not be taken off guard at the changes that will occur. Dr. John Dunlop gives solid advice to those who surround the loved one.
“First, we must understand that all forms of dementia are diseases; they are not part of normal aging. The victims cannot control what is happening to them, making it absolutely wrong to criticize or lose patience with them. When dementia gets frustrating, we must always recognize that the problem is the disease, not the person. Almost all forms of dementia can strike any person without any respect for place in society, state of physical health, or prior level of intelligence, though it is true that each of those factors can affect how the dementia impacts the victim.”[iii]
Encouragement from Scriptures for those who suffer from the debilitating effects of dementia
In 2006, a “MetLife Foundation survey found that Alzheimer’s disease is the second most feared disease among American adults, behind only cancer.”[iv] Any type of dementia strikes fear in the hearts of those who hear the diagnose and those who’s loved one is diagnosed. While other diseases can be terminal, many with dementia diagnoses believe that all hope is lost not just due to no cure, but the loss of the ability to think and function in a manner they are familiar with. “The progressive loss of memory leads people to believe that they will become unreachable and unknowable. Intentionally or not, many tend to believe that because people with dementia cannot contribute (in work, around the house, at church), they have little or no value. No hope, no identity, and no value…”[v]
As believers, we certainly need to see that the Word of God tells us that we do have hope, an identity that does not change, and an immense value to our Creator God. We are born into a world that is fallen and under the curse of sin and death. This causes all of creation to groan (Romans 8:18-23) as we are all subject to disease, aging and decay. We also realize that we are pilgrims passing through this present world. (Philippians 3:20–21) The Apostle Paul reminds us of the fact that our bodies are subject to death and disease, but God holds out a greater hope and anticipation of something beyond our affliction. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 tells us, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”Care givers, family members, and believing friends must remind their loved ones with dementia of this hope daily. Even when the loved one does not seem to respond, we must remember the Holy Spirit dwells within the believing person with dementia and He is the one who will bring this truth to their hearts. We are the instruments that God will use to provide His encouragement and hope.
There is no greater section of Scripture to remind both the one with dementia and those who are standing with that loved one of God’s personal presence and loving care than Psalm 139:1-6. It is here we see the unexplained value our Creator God places on us. It begins with God’s intimate knowledge of our situation, our anguish, and our need. Here God reminds all of us that in all the vast events that are occurring in our immeasurable universe, He knows when we sit and when we rise; He perceives our thoughts, and He is keenly aware of all our ways. Even in this path of dementia, both the person with dementia and the caregiver should be aware of our Heavenly Father’s presence. Psalm 139:5 reminds us that God surrounds us from behind and in front and laid His hand on us. Listen to how the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon describes this verse. “Shall we not alter the figure, and say that our heavenly Father has folded his arms around us, and caressed us with his hand? It is even so with those who are by faith the children of the Most High.”[vi]Deuteronomy 31:8 was a great comfort to both my mom and me as we ministered to my dad. “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”This verse encouraged my mom, my husband and me as dad’s caregivers, to pray that the Holy Spirit would use it to comfort my dad. His presence was promised as we traveled that journey and His strength when we wavered. It was one of the verses we quoted to him often.
Once again, Psalm 139, verses 13 -16 lets us know that God’s intimate knowledge of us began before we were born. Here the psalmist by God’s inspiration describes God’s blueprint for us was determined before our birth, even our allotted days for this earth. Ephesians 1 confirms this same intimate knowledge and gives us much more. This section of Scripture assures both the person with dementia and the caregivers that not even this dreadful disease can rob any believer of their identity. Our identity was God given before the foundations of the world. In Christ, He has called us to be sons and daughters through His adoption. We have in Christ redemption through his blood, forgiveness, we have been lavished with rich grace, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, our guarantee. This is only a very brief rendition of God’s plans for each son or daughter in Christ. This is not an improvised plan, but one that came from the Triune Godhead in eternity past and will be completed in eternity future. Again, this is God’s promise and security and our hope. God did not remove the dreaded disease from my dad, but I am sure that He walked both my dad and those of us who cared for him through that difficult and hard time. I know He was faithful until my dad’s end. When my dad could not speak, he would mouth the words of special gospel songs, especially “Jesus Loves Me”.
Romans 8:37-39 assures us of His faithfulness. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Caregivers, family members and friends of the person going through dementia, once more, please remind and encourage them of these precious truths. God will never leave them or forsake them! Even when that person cannot respond, continue to speak these truths to them.
Dr. Benjamin Mast rightly distinguishes between the world’s perspective of identity and God’s. “Alzheimer’s (any dementia)strips away our worldly identity, but a person is valuable for who they are, not simply for what they can contribute. We are more than the sum of our memories. Even when we have nothing left to offer others, we still have value to God, and nothing can change that.”[vii] I would add to Dr. Mast’s wise words an important truth, no circumstance will come into the believer’s life that God will not use for good. It is vital for those who are coming along-side the dementia sufferer, to know that God will use the suffering not only for the good of the loved one, but others who are looking on and seeing how the gospel is displayed in earthen vessels. (2 Cor. 1:3-4; 4:7-12)
Practical Guidelines to consider for caregiver and family members
Before we begin with considering different types of decisions and preparations, we must realize that more than ever we need wisdom as we seek help for our loved one with dementia. James 1:5–6a tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, …”In our personal situation with my dad, we often experienced God’s help and His hand in guiding. “Start praying that God will fill you with love, wisdom, and strength for the job ahead. Recruit some close friends to faithfully pray with and for you.”[viii]
Typically, early dementia may not be noticed by most who are casual observers. The affected person or those who are close may notice that something seems to be out of sorts or different. Remembering new things, or the feeling of confusion with daily task, or making decisions that demand reason or judgement become difficult. In some situations, family members may notice behavioral changes such uncommon irritability or moods of depression. In time, dementia symptoms become more obvious and a cause for concern. If you suspect that someone close to you is showing symptoms of dementia it is important to act and help the person. “You will need to take stock of your current situation and then identify what needs to be done to help the impaired person and to make the burdens on yourself bearable.”[ix]
Getting Medical Help
It is important to see a medical doctor soon to determine the cause. Many insurances want a referral from the primary care physician, so it is a good plan to start there. Often, your primary care physician would be the one to oversee the diagnostic process such as monitoring all tests, treatments and making sure there are good records.
“It is important that (the person with suspected dementia) undergo a thorough evaluation. A complete evaluation tells you and the doctors several things:
- the exact nature of the person’s illness
- whether the condition can be reversed or treated
- the nature and extent of the disability
- the areas in which the person can still function successfully
- whether the person has other health problems that need treatment and that might be making her/his mental problems worse
- the social and psychological needs and resources of the person with a suspected dementia and the family or caregiver the changes you can expect in the future.”[x]
If there is a dementia diagnosis, get a letter from your physician stating to that fact. It will prove to be a valuable asset as you seek to get assistance for long-term medical care.
Once more, the Alzheimer’s Association website (alz.org) gives the best practical guidelines. It states:
“The time will come when individuals who have dementia cannot handle the medical decisions and legal or financial responsibility for themselves. With an early diagnosis, you and the person with dementia now have the opportunity to make decisions about the future together, including legal, financial, and long-term care planning.”[xi]
Family members need to know about the financial status of the loved one with dementia such as resources and debts.Plus, knowing the insurance coverage, pensions, or other benefits that could assist with covering future medical care that will needed. We found a social worker through my parent Medicare health plan. This wonderful lady was a valuable resource in helping us plan.
Certain legal documents are essential to secure to make sure the decisions made can be followed through. For example:
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Power of Attorney for health care
- Living will
- Standard will
- Living trust (Probate)
- Guardianship / conservatorship
Health care is a major concern for many let alone someone who will need long-term care. The thought of getting the right kind of care was a daunting task for my mom and me and my husband. My parents only had Medicare insurance with no supplemental insurance. The cost of care, especially long-term care can be expensive. Again, the social worker helped us to find government assistance that would cover the expenses that my mom could not. It is always wise to begin with the health plan. While my parents’ health insurance did not cover long term care, they did have, along with the social worker, a visiting nurse. Both helped us to understand what was happening to my dad and the right course of medical care and how to pursue help on a very limited budget.
Some options to cover the expenses are:
- Health insurance, especially those that cover long-term care
- There may be resources (RVs, additional cars, property) that can provide out of pocket finances to cover cost
- Medicaid, a federal/state program can help with low income situations
Many do not have the insurance coverage or finances to cover the cost of long-term medical care. This was the case with my parents. Their insurance coverage was a basic Medicare plan that will cover certain short-term health care assistance, but it does not cover long-term health care. We were forced to seek state assistance to get financial help to cover expenses for long-term care. Through a social worker provided by my dad’s health insurance, we received much needed information on ALTCS (Arizona Long-Term Care System). ALTCS is a federal and state funded program and is unique to Arizona. This program is designed to pay for long-term medical care for people with very low income and asset levels.
Yet again, another resource is found at the Alzheimer’s Association. It is titled “Plan for Your Future”. It gives wonderful advice on legal, financial, and end of life planning. All are equally important and need to be considered early on.
What Kind of Care to Consider:
Determining the type of care for a person with dementia requires careful and thorough considerations. I love how the Alzheimer’s Association spoke of the process as, “There is no one-size-fits all formula when it comes to Alzheimer’s care. Each family’s situation is unique.”[xii] Early in the disease, an individual may be able to live independently, but only need some assistance with managing finances or paying bills, taking medicine appropriately, help with shopping, housework, or outside yard care and finally transportation. There are in-home services that can help maintain that independent lifestyle for the dementia sufferer. There is a variety of services that can provide help for the person with dementia such as simple assistance with day to day needs. There are other services that can provide medical care by certified professionals such as a visiting nurse.
Family and friends of progressive dementia sufferers will notice an obvious change as the dementia symptoms increase. The need for assistance to complete daily task such as being able to dress themselves and appropriately maintain hygiene is apparent. These individuals will need the kind of care that will give 24 hours of daily assistance. As my dad’s behavior became more difficult for my mom to handle; my husband and I were determined to bring my mom and dad into our home thinking we could care for both. The only problem was that we were unprepared and ill informed on what to expect. Routinely, my dad was up in the middle of the night, thinking he needed to get ready for work. He would often try to get into the car to go somewhere and had to be persuaded to get out. My dad needed someone to constantly monitor his whereabout at home to prevent him from doing something that could harm him such as our gas stove. Going outside by himself alarmed us as he could wander and get lost. Our Arizona heat can be dangerous and can quickly cause injury. In his frustration and confusion, he would strike my mom and hurt her. After desperately trying, we came to the conclusion that our efforts were not sufficient to protect him and my mom. At this point we had to make the heart wrenching decision to place him in a facility that could safely give him the care he needed.
Determining on the right care can be a difficult decision and one that should not be driven by our emotions or guilt. “Before you make the decision to bring a loved one with dementia into your home you must take into consideration many factors such as financial resources and are the much-needed support resources available. It is also important to consider the demands during the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. It will become necessary to provide 24-hour supervision to keep the person with dementia safe. As the disease progresses into the late-stages, round-the-clock care requirements become more intensive. Making the decision to bring that loved one into your home or move them into a residential care facility may be very difficult, but you must consider that you may not be able to provide the level of care needed at your home. Here are some questions to consider in your decision.
- If the person with dementia is unsafe in their current home, will you be able to provide a safe environment?
- Is the health of the person with dementia or my health as a caregiver at risk?
- Are the person’s care needs beyond my physical abilities?
- Would I neglect work responsibilities, my family and myself?
- Would the structure and social interaction at a care facility benefit the person with dementia?”[xiii]
“Moving to a nursing home or similar facility becomes not a sign of weakness but of the strength to do what is right. The other person to consider in this decision, of course, is the victim of dementia. He may be at the point where he has no appreciation for the sacrifices being made to keep him at home. It’s important for caregivers to know that after the patient adjusts to new surroundings, he might be equally content to live in a facility. In fact, he may actually be happier having others around. The move to a nursing home may be much harder on the caregiver than on the patient. If, on the other hand, he continues to derive obvious pleasure from being at home, other sources of help should be pursued, and nursing-home placement deferred. The final group of stakeholders in the decision to pursue residential or nursing-home care is children or teenagers in the home whose needs might require a higher priority than the wishes of the person with dementia.”[xiv]
I personally have seen successful and wonderful experiences of families caring for a loved one with dementia in their home. Yes, it was demanding and required additional help. For example, a nurse at my dad’s residential facility shared that she was the care-giver for her mom. She stayed with her mom by day, and her two brothers took turns staying at night. Another dear friend in our church cared for his mom until she passed and would not have it any other way. Our experience was different. My mom was in a frail state and dad had unknowingly hurt her many times. This disease had changed my big, gentle dad. The hard decision to place my dad in a skilled nursing home was not what I imagined or wanted. My dad needed more help than we could provide plus properly care for my mom, so we carefully chose a residential center. We did our research. We personally went to several facilities and interviewed staff, plus toured the facilities. We found one reasonably close by. A facility with lock-down capabilities and yet a courtyard for outside access. Because my dad tended to wander at night, they had him, along with other nomads like him, stay in the main room rather than his room he shared with another patient. This group of wanderers kept each other company while the night shift nurse and caregivers were watching. They even allowed us to purchase a special recliner for dad that could be put in the main room. My mobile dad had a safe environment where he could move about and yet still interact with other people.
We were still his caregiver in many ways. We were there as often as we could, at the very least, every other day. We would pack the car with as much love we could muster. We brought snacks, clean clothes (we did his laundry), puzzles and books, and ourselves. Yes, I felt guilty and had feelings that somehow, I failed. What I had to remember was that our God is sovereign, and all circumstances will work for good for all who are believers. We did our best to be that light in a dark place. We tried to encourage the staff with notes of appreciation and treats. We found that many were Christians. We shared Scripture and songs with dad and those around sometimes joined in as we sang and prayed. We got to know other residents and tried to encourage and spend time with them too. We found many opportunities to share the gospel with others. It was our hope that God was glorified and lifted up at Scottsdale Village Square!
I highly recommend that you learn as much as you can about dementia and the specific disease causing it. This is just as important as discussing the financial and legal matters. If possible you and the person close to you with the dementia diagnosis should learn together what to expect. Most dementia diagnosis are progressive and will lead to future decline. “One of the most effective way of coping with adversity is education. Knowledge really is power! It provides the foundation to attack our problems, bolstering us with the assurance that we’re doing all we can to bring calm, sensible management, and comfort to the situation. So, the more we understand our adversary, Alzheimer’s disease, [dementia] the better we’ll be able to predict what’s coming and respond appropriately when it comes.”[xv]
I have included a short list of books and other additional resources at the end of this blog. I will say again that the Alzheimer’s Association Organization (website: http://alz.org) is probably the best help available and supplies solid information that will prove to be valuable throughout your journey. The information they provide will help guide you in the many decisions you will face, also they can assist with various support groups for both the caregiver and the person with early or mild dementia. I also included two valuable books that allow you to see the sufferer’s journey through the eyes of Scripture. They provide excellent biblical principles, hope and encouragement for both caregivers and the one suffering.
What much needed perspectives can be gained for those who minister (care givers, biblical counselors, church family, shepherds) to individuals with dementia.
Sadly, my dad’s church was for the most part was absent. One couple who were close to my parents did visit as often as they could. My dad’s pastor visited a couple of time early on, but once my dad was placed in his care facility, visits ceased. Others, such as deacons or elders who knew my parents well, inquired, but did not visit. I understand. Often people do know how to relate to a dementia sufferer and do not know how to minister or help. The physical decline and behavioral changes can alarm and upset ministers and church family members. If you think about this topic, when have you heard or seen anything that mentions or deals with the topic of dementia in our church environment? Largely, our churches are ill-prepared and uninformed as to how to minister to this group of forgotten sheep. I do acknowledge that church attenders are busy in their own lives and it is just altogether too easy to simply forget that familiar face of one who no longer can attend or be involved. “As one pastor said: ‘The church has an Alzheimer’s of its own.’ … In the very times when they (dementia sufferers)are most in need, feeling isolated and alone, we tend to forget people with Alzheimer’s.”[xvi]
Dr. Benjamin Mast in his book, Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease, provided import statistics that should cause our churches to realize that dementia is growing in numbers and is very likely impacting a significant number already, from care-givers to the ones with dementia. Please consider the following facts:
- “14 percent people over the age of seventy have dementia, and another 22 percent have some other form of cognitive impairment.
- A large number of baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1964) who may be spending a good portion of their retirement either caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or who soon will develop the condition themselves
- The Alzheimer’s Association described Alzheimer’s as the “defining disease of the Baby Boom generation” and estimate that as many as ten million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s disease.”[xvii]
We probably have in our midst, brothers or sisters in Christ with a dementia diagnoses, but are afraid to share this out of fear of how others will react. We know of a couple in our church who are worried about a parent suffering with Alzheimer’s. They are already considering how to care for this loved one. Caregivers, along with the individuals with dementia need the loving arms and support from the body of Christ.
How can the church help?
- Trained volunteers can offer relief to the care-giver by filling in as they run errands or just take a nap.
- Trained volunteers can visit a sister or brother in Christ with dementia and the caregiver.
- Trained volunteers can assist with errands or transportation with a loved one with dementia.
- Musical volunteers can bring beloved songs and hymns that will encouraged the individual with dementia “Research studies show that music relieve stress, reduce anxiety, depression, and reduce agitation. Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.”[xviii]
- Are there needs of home repair or maintenance such as yard care? Individuals living on a limited income cannot afford to hire someone and they are often physically unable to keep up with the demands of their home. “In 1 John 3: 16 – 18, we read that we should imitate the love of Christ by caring for the practical, physical needs of people: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’”[xix]
- Cards, notes, emails to both care-givers and the sister or brother in Christ with dementia.
- Some dementia sufferers love children. My grandchildren came regularly to visit great grandpa. They sang and made cards for him on the spot.
- Keep both the caregiver and the afflicted loved one in prayer by mentioning and praying from the pulpit and noted in the bulletin.
- “Here are some suggestions offered by families for how to pray for someone with Alzheimer’s disease:
- Pray that the Lord will calm the confusion
- Pray for relief from anxiety and for peace
- Pray that the Lord will strengthen the person for what the Lord has for them that day
- Pray that they will experience the Lord as their shepherd
- Pray for comfort through the day and night
- Pray for assurance that the person is a child of the King and that nothing can take that away
- Pray that the Lord will be with us and carry the person’s inner burdens
- Pray for relief from pain and loneliness
- Pray for a peaceful transition from this earthly home to the heavenly home (for those nearing death)”[xx]
- If our dear saints with dementia are in a residential home, visit in a team of two or three. Find out what they still enjoy doing. Simple things like walking with them, or looking at colorful books, or just simply talking to them and reading Scripture. Make sure you pray for them and remind them often how you love them and miss them. Go prepared by talking to family members or residential C.N.A. who are with them often. This way visits are specific to their likes and needs. Don’t worry about filling the whole time with talking as dementia sufferers do not always respond. Others will, and they may go off in a totally different direction than the initial conversation. That’s OK. Join them in what they want to talk about.
- Again, bringing children to a residential home is a wonderful way to bring sunshine to a dementia sufferer’s day. Often bringing children to a residential home needs to be prearranged and children need to be prepared. Let children know what they will see and teach them to understand that this is God’s way we come alongside the sufferer. Have something specific that they will do such a bringing handmade cards and coming to sing special songs. Scripture reminds us often to encourage and love each other in the body of Christ. What a wonderful way to teach our children what this looks like as we live this out. “And we urge you, brothers, … encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
- Pastors and Elders of a dementia sufferer’s church, you too need to remember your charge as shepherds over your flock. Your sheep with dementia need to see you. I remember reading about how we can help the dementia sufferer with remembering Christ. One thing Dr. Mast in his book,Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease brought to my attention was the purpose of the Lord’s Supper was remembering Christ. I remember my dad praying often after the grip of Alzheimer’s took hold of him. He would frequently ask for forgiveness. What better way to remind him of Christ’s sacrifice and His great redemption than what Christ, Himself commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) We might wonder how someone with dementia can remember when memory loss is his/her greatest problem. Using multiple sensory inputs with vision, touch, taste, smell, and hearing are avenues to remembering. This was something I was taught as a teacher and was encouraged to teach using diverse senses. “See it, hear it, do it” was a phrase I heard often. Sounds good, but with my dad I had to realize that purpose Communion was to do much more than jog memories. The Holy Spirit dwelt within my dad and due to this promise it was my hope and prayer that the Holy Spirit would minister to my dad’s heart giving him the much-needed assurance and hope we have as believers. It was my hope that the Holy Spirit would assure him that he was forgiven. (Rom. 8:13-16, 26-27; 15:13; Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 1:14; Titus 3:5)
- “Here are some suggestions offered by families for how to pray for someone with Alzheimer’s disease:
When dad was living in our home, he came to church with us. One Sunday, Communion was passed to my dad. His hand was shaking, and it was difficult to raise the Communion cup to his mouth. Our pastor noticed and tenderly assisted my dad, so he could take Communion. The Pastor Joel Ellis will never know how precious that memory was to us. On a regular basis, my dad did not attend our church, but on that day Pastor Ellis became my dad’s Shepherd in a very special way!
Once more, Dr. Mast said it well.
“By being present with those who are hurting and confused, we become a concrete reminder that God is present. We come alongside families and journey with them, encouraging and supporting them, and demonstrating the love of Christ in a practical way. One practical aspect of this is that we get to know the person and their caregivers better and more appropriately begin to address whatever needs arise. You don’t need to know all of the right things to say. Just be present. Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1: 19). Weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12: 15).”[xxi]
Second Forgetting; Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease– by Dr. Benjamin Mast
Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia– by John Dunlap, MD
The 36-Hour Day; A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss– by Nancy L. Mace, MA; Peter V. Rabins, MD, MPH
Help for the Caregiver, Facing the Challenges with Understanding and Strength– Michael R. Emlet
Alzheimer’s Association – https://www.alz.org/
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America – https://alzfdn.org/
Call our 24/7 Helpline: 800.272.3900
Banner Alzheimer’s Institute –http://banneralz.org/
Family Caregivers Association – https://www.caregiver.org/caregivers-guide-understanding-dementia-behaviors
Scriptures of Hope:
Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. When our minds fail, we trust that God’s Word will still speak to our hearts. Here is a list of Scriptural encouragement.
Psalms 20:1-8; 27; 28; 30; 34; 62; 63; 86; 103, 121; 130; 146
Isaiah 25:1-9; 43:17
2 Corinthians 1:3-11
I Peter 1:3-9
 Alzheimer’s Association. (2018) What Is Dementia? Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp.
 Dunlop, John, MD. Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia (pp. 33-34). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 MetLife Foundation, MetLife Foundation Alzheimer’s Survey: What America Thinks, (New York: MetLife Foundation, 2006)
 Mast, Dr. Benjamin T.; Mast, Dr. Benjamin T. Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease (p. 57). Zondervan. Kindle Edition
 Spurgeon, Charles H..; The Treasury of David, Classic Reflections on the Wisdom of the Psalms, Vol 3. (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA) 260.
Mast, Dr. Benjamin T. Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease (p. 60). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 Dunlop, John, MD. Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia (p.89). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 Mace, Nancy L.; Rabins, Peter V.. The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book) (Kindle Locations 447-448). Johns Hopkins University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid. (Kindle Locations 490-491).
 Alzheimer’s Association. (2018) Planning Ahead Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-planning-ahead.asp
 Alzheimer’s Association. (2018) Care Options Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/care-options
 Dunlop, John, MD. Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia (p. 94). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 Howard, Deborah; Howe, Judy. Help, Someone I Love has Alzheimer’s; (Shepherd Press, Wapwallopen, PA 18660) p. 12.
 Mast, Dr. Benjamin T.; The Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease (p. 105). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid, (p. 106)
 Graff-Radford, Jonathan M.D.; Music and Alzheimer’s: Can it help? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/expert-answers/music-and-alzheimers/faq-20058173
 Mast, Dr. Benjamin T.; Mast, Dr. Benjamin T. Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease (p. 113). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid (p. 143). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid. (p. 115). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.