Resources for your Ministry to Those Forgetting and Forgotten

Ruth RosellBy Dr. Ruth Lofgren Rosell
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology— Pastoral Care & Counseling

 

The statistics on the increasing rates of Alzheimer’s Disease in our graying America are staggering. One in eight Americans aged 65 and older currently have the disease. The prevalence rate then doubles every ive years so that nearly half of our elders struggle with it by the age of 85. We all know members of our congregations who gradually have become more forgetful and less able to function, until they quietly disappear from our congregational life. Because they may not remember our pastoral visits, we may hesitate to use our limited time in visiting them. At the very point of their lives when they most need others to support their faith, too often they are left alone.

This subject is a personal one, as well as a professional one, because my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. Once highly verbal and capable, she can no longer think of what to talk about or often remember what has recently happened. But Alzheimer’s Disease affects feelings much less than cognitive ability, and long term memories remain far longer than more recent ones; so my mother, like many others, can still engage her faith in God and draw strength from it. When we sing the old hymns together she becomes more alive and can recite every word, or she makes up more meaningful ones as we go along. Mom engages in very few activities, but going to church on Sundays is the highlight of her week. Members of a church close to my parents’ assisted living facility faithfully come every Sunday to transport them and others to worship. It is a ministry of selfless love, and it is deeply needed.

Those who are forgetting need us not to forget them. More than at any other time of their lives, they need us to embody God’s constant love and faithfulness. Much of our traditional pastoral care relies on the cognitive and verbal abilities. Pastoral care for those with limitations in these areas relies more on nonverbal communication and involves the creative use of music, touch, presence, love, familiar religious ritual, and nature. Some resources that may be helpful to you include the following:

Resources

God Never Forgets: Faith, Hope and Alzheimer’s Disease

This volume, edited by Donald K. McKim, contains articles that explore the crucial theological issues raised by this disease.

Spiritual Care for Persons with Dementia: Fundamentals for Pastoral Practice

Edited by Larry VandeCreek, this volume offers much of value regarding spiritual and pastoral care to those with Alzheimer’s Disease. It helps one understand both the realities of dementia and effective responses.

Inside Alzheimer’s: How to Hear and Honor Connections with a Person Who Has Dementia

Drawing on her twenty years of working with those with Alzheimer’s, Nancy Pearce indicates how to make meaningful connections through entering into their world and truly being with them. Although she speaks from her experience as a social worker, the author is sensitive to spiritual concerns, also.

Creating Moments of Joy

Jolene Brackey helps us understand one who has Alzheimer’s so as to create moments of joy. Not a religious book, it is intensely practical, and especially helpful for caregivers.

The Alzheimer’s Association—www.alz.org

Another resource that provides 24 hour information and support for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

Visits with social workers and support groups are some of the services they offer.