General CBF

General Assembly Workshop Review: “The Sacred Journey of Dementia”

The following post is by Sarah Holik. Sarah serves as Minister of Preschool, Children and Senior Adults at First Baptist Church, Fitzgerald, GA. Sarah is a CBF Fellow and a graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.Sarah Holik

“I might not remember their names or who they are, but I’ll always hold them in my heart.”

Listening to James Hyde share his story of living with dementia, eyes around the room watered. To be sure, we’d started the session with sobering statistics, but the story we saw and heard resonated with the stories we live and the people we hold in our hearts.

As Leah Brown shared about First Baptist Asheville’s Memory Cafés, the power of story and its role in creating and sustaining our identities continued.

Memory Cafés offer safe, stigma-free environments for people with dementia to come with their caregivers and participate in simple, stimulating activities. It may be working puzzles, playing dominoes, or coloring, but Brown finds that stories are told when people have the chance to relax around a beloved task.

Other times matching socks for a clothes closet or sorting candy for the upcoming children’s ministry event gives purpose and the opportunity to participate in mission to those at the Memory Café.

By providing space for people to talk together in pairs or small groups, the ministry allows people to continue to tell the stories they remember as well as create an identity that affirms their value.

Brown, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and serves as Minister with Senior Adults at First Baptist Asheville, reminded us that, “People are people first. They are not dementia; they are people with dementia.”

Brown offered these helpful reminders for engaging in conversation with people with dementia:

  • Go slow and use fewer words
  • One-on-one conversations with minimal background noise are best
  • Allow the person time to process what you have said
  • Ask open ended questions only—no “why” questions
  • Don’t argue but follow the person’s lead
  • Refrain from
    testing and shaming (“Don’t you remember….” or “I’ve already told you…)”
  • Mirror the person’s word choice to maintain familiarity and consistency

Society, churches, and individuals are intimidated by dementia and the loss it creates. Brown’s insight into “The Sacred Journey of Dementia” offers Christians and churches the opportunity to offer a proactive, affirming ministry of presence to those with dementia and their caregivers.

At the end of the day, aren’t we all people who like to share our stories, contribute to our communities, and feel valued?

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