Thoughts on Ministry to Those With Dementia

DementiaOne of the most common aspects of my pastoral ministry has been to individuals or families dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is always a difficult situation for those involved.

On a personal note. this was a challenge for me early in my ministry. My nursing home experience before becoming a pastor was as a boy visiting my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. The sights and smells of visiting a nursing home as a pastor brought back many memories.

One of the observations that I have made is that families tend to apologize to me when their loved one repeats a question or a story in the same visit. It really seems to bother them.

What I would want families to know is that is okay. I don’t mind at all if a person forgets what either they or I had said a few minutes before. It does not offend or frustrate me. I’m happy to respond to any questions or statements, no matter how often it comes up in one conversation.

I recently visited a lady with dementia who is not able to have a conversation. She is pretty far gone. One of the nurses warned me that I wouldn’t get much out of the conversation. She hinted that the visit might be pointless.

But the point is that I’m not visiting the person to get something out of it. I’m there to give. I had a pleasant visit with her as I read Scripture and prayed with her. I believe she received something from that visit, even if she is unable to communicate.

Another lady at recent visit had repeated herself a number of time. Again, I had a pleasant visit, because my goal was not to stimulate my own thinking but to just spend time with her. She likely no longer remembers my visit but that is okay. We had time together in that moment and the loss of memories does not change that.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s will touch most of us directly or indirectly. It is good for to show love to the people with it and their families. Sometimes living in and rejoicing in the moment is the way to go in such situations. Fellowship is important even if the memories fade quickly.

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  1. This is such a difficult issue for families. We’re going through the battle with Alzheimer’s now with one parent, who is still living at home with her spouse. No one really agrees on what to do as she declines. While it’s taking place hours from where we live, it’s stressful. Thank you for ministering to those with dementia/Alzheimer’s; I know that means a lot to the families & even if the person can’t respond or recognize what is happening, I know that God can use your words and prayers in ways we can’t even imagine.

    On a side note, I really wish older folks would make definite plans for what should happen if/when they become mentally incapacitated. It’s difficult for the grown kids when mom or dad have no plans or if their plans are simply unrealistic. (Not everyone can live at home until they die or be taken into a child’s home, unfortunately, and for older folks not to realize that is a huge problem.) Do you have pastoral counsel for grown children who struggle with this issue?

    1. Those are some good thoughts. You are correct that some tough conversations need to happen right at the beginning of the diagnosis. My observation is that families want to live in denial near the beginning, hoping it won’t get bad. In terms of taking care of them, I already have a bias. We have two children (aged 15 and 16) who live in a group home because of their autism. I don’t see the group home as a sign of failure. We have the best relationship with them because they are receiving the proper care and we can just enjoy quality time with them.

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