A diagnosis of Dementia doesn’t mean that a person’s life stops, or is over. There is a support available to help the person to live well; various activities such as “singing for the brain”, memory cafes, memory boxes, keep fit for older people, gardening and other activities to stimulate body and mind.
But as well as a body and a mind, everyone also has a spirit. Even people who aren’t Christians or wouldn’t profess to having any kind of belief, will talk about people who are keen spirited, who have a lively, spirit or one which cannot easily be broken. It is my belief that people therefore have spiritual needs – whatever they perceive them to be, and however they would express them. This applies also to people with Dementia, and it is very important that those needs don’t get overlooked. A person with Dementia who had faith, may no longer be able to express that faith, but it is doubtless still there – somewhere – and God certainly doesn’t give up on, or stop loving, them just because they may not be able to talk about their beliefs, or understand some of the finer details of their religion.
I found this when I was a volunteer in a Catholic care home. They had a short service once a month. Some were able to join in or even take an active part; others appeared to have no interest at all. Yet they often joined in with the hymns, even if they couldn’t read the words, and knew some of the liturgy by heart.
Of course, not everyone has, or had, a faith and may not relate to prayers and hymns or enjoy Bible readings. They might find that listening to music helps them to relax and be at peace, or maybe poetry, art or nature feeds their souls, or helps them to heal, or connect with themselves, or others. Sometimes it’s good for us to sit quietly and just be, even, or maybe especially, people with Dementia. So it was a little disappointing, recently, to have such a moment interrupted by someone who wanted the clients to do something instead of just sitting around listening to music. Maybe it’s because families pay to send their relatives to the centre and we feel we have to do things and produce evidence of achievement or progress. That’s understandable, but maybe, once in a while, we need to write silence or meditation, into our diaries or timetables.