Connecting someone with dementia to their faith

Connecting someone with dementia to their faith

Prior to beginning with the Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County in January 2013,  Milton Fraser served as a minister for the past twenty four years. Throughout his work of leading worship, education and pastoral care, he has journeyed with several folks with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

1. How can faith help people with dementia cope with their illness?

Faith for the person with dementia offers the same help as it does for the person who doesn’t have dementia. Faith can bring purpose and meaning to one’s life. It can be a source of strength hope and peace in the midst of the storms and trials.  Faith for the person with dementia can provide a reminder of all these gifts.

2. What spiritual activities resonate the most with someone with dementia?

For many years I led monthly worship services at the local long term care facilities.  The gathering place for worship was in a chapel, where there were visual symbols like the cross and the bible to remind us of important tenets of our faith.

Music also speaks to people on many levels. I was amazed at how people who seemed emotionally distant came alive as we sang familiar hymns. Their fingers and toes would begin to tap, their lips move and familiar words remembered.

At the mid-week service, Communion was celebrated. As a verse from the Scriptures says, taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34.8).  It was a holy moment for me, to share the tiny piece of bread and the small cup of juice with those gathered. Just as the music brought life, this symbol brought spiritual nourishment to those present.

As the service concluded, I took the opportunity to offer peace and a blessing to each individual. As I would say, “May the Lord bless you,” many would offer a blessing or thanks back.

As we all join together in such activities, we commune with God in way that transcends the individual. They can remind someone with dementia of something bigger than themselves.

3. Do you have experience with those in the final stages of the disease? What activities provide benefits for them?

I try to be faithful in visiting the person on behalf of their faith community, reminding them that they have not been forgotten.  As part of each visit, we have prayer and sometimes the reading of familiar words of Scripture. For some, having music played softly in the background is a comfort

4. Do you have experience in ministering for someone in palliative care?

For close to ten years I served as the ministerial representative on the Palliative Care Team at Arnprior Regional Health.  I frequently visited those who didn’t have church connections and expressed a desire to speak to a clergy person.  It was a privilege to be able to journey alongside them.  My presence brought comfort, reassurance, hope and peace. For those with dementia and who are palliative, those same spiritual needs exist.

5. What are your experiences in ministering to caregivers?

As a congregational minister, I offered whatever support I could to caregivers.  Sometimes folks from the congregation provided tangible help like bringing a meal or offering practical help.  But more often than not, the listening and caring ear helped the most. They needed to be shown that they were not alone and reminded to care for themselves as well as the person with dementia. Quietly as a congregation, we would remember caregivers and their needs in prayer.

For more advice on staying connected with friends, family and your community, visit our website.

milton-fraserMilton Fraser

Program Staff

Alzheimer Society of Ottawa-Renfrew County

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