A Disciple’s Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease progressively damages nerve cells (neurons) in parts of the brain involved in memory, learning, language, and reasoning. Deterioration over time becomes severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily functioning.
Are you a “presence practicer?” As Christians, we know that God’s presence works in and through God’s people. We are called to a lifestyle of discipleship that imitates the way Jesus granted love, compassion, and dignity to all people, regardless of condition.
Remember that each individual and situation is unique and becomes more complex as the disease progresses.
More than 70 percent of Alzheimer’s victims live at home, where family and friends provide almost 75 percent of their care. It is also estimated that half of all nursing home patients suffer from Alzheimer’s. Congregations have the privilege and the responsibility to offer a Christian presence to those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Families may be reluctant to ask for help while some individuals are hesitant to offer help for fear they may say or do something wrong.
Congregations may want to consider creating a “Care Team,” specifically trained to respond to the needs of these people and their families. Alternatively, volunteers or small groups may offer a few hours to give regular caregivers a much needed break. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Caregiving is a full-time commitment, but a few hours of time to recreate is necessary to refresh the caregivers’ well-being.
- Remember that each individual and situation is unique and becomes more complex as the disease progresses.
- Speak with the family or caregivers to know what to expect and what will be especially helpful. Be willing to do what is needed, even if the experience takes you beyond your comfort level.
- Pray that God will keep you strong and that you will learn from this situation. As the disease progresses, be sensitive to what God wants you to know about the child of God you care for. Recognize the joy that exists, despite the situation.
- Your primary job is to “come and be present.” Speak with even the most cognitively disabled, calling them by name. Do not be surprised if you elicit a response that comes despite months or years of no communication.
- Be prepared to answer the same question repeatedly. Consider this an opportunity to relate to them.
- Respect the dignity of those you care for. Keep them as informed as possible. For example, you may need to re-introduce yourself and say why you are there every time you enter the patient’s room.
- Divert, do not correct. If someone who has not worked for twenty years insists it’s time to catch the bus for work, ask the person what they like best about going to work.
- Listen and learn if they relate some wonderful stories of their past.
- Those with Alzheimer’s have not forgotten who they are. They have lost the “keys” to re-connect the reality of who they are.
- Family and other caregivers will be able to tell you what items or activities had the most meaning in a person’s early life. The things they have known the longest will be first to be connected.
- Engage the person with something that might trigger sensory stimulation including singing Christmas carols and old hymns, listening to “big band” music, tending house plants, reciting poems or nursery rhymes, reading Bible stories, baking cookies, looking at photo albums, and saying the Lord’s Prayer and other simple prayers out loud.
This article was published in Seeds for the Parish
, a bimonthly resource paper for leaders of ELCA congregations.