Fulfilling Spiritual Needs
Having worked with people living with dementia since the early 90’s, people from all backgrounds, all ages, all stages, all walks of life, I have found one factor that remains the same. Spiritual people want and need to hold fast to their faith. When they are not able to attend to that faith on their own, we need to compassionately and creatively find ways to assist them.
I coordinated a memory care unit when my husband and I moved our family to North Carolina. “After working with senior adults for so long, I had accepted death as a part of life, but watching the families grieve was always very hard for me. As one sweet lady on my unit neared her final breath, with family surrounding her bedside, I sat out in the living area playing hymns on the piano. Now my musical talent was pretty limited, as I have said, but at the request of my gramps, I did learn to play hymns. After 30 minutes of some old Baptist favorites, I prepared to move on to another activity, but the resident’s daughter came to me and asked if I’d please keep playing, as her mom was still and peaceful while I played but became anxious and agitated when I stopped. I immediately sat down and continued playing as it was an honor and privilege to help ease the family’s last moments together.” (Excerpt from my book “Gifts from Gramps – My Joy Filled Journey from Granddaughter to Grandmother”,
available on Amazon)
Working on another unit, I had a resident move in who was still able to use her rosary, read her morning devotional, study her bible, watch mass on TV, and take communion from the priest who came to visit. Being able to follow her faith routine was very important to her, even in the midst of Alzheimer’s.
How can we best support those who are living with dementia tend to their spiritual needs? If you don’t follow the same religion, you will need to know a little about their beliefs. If you are not familiar, it’s okay to ask questions. Give them the opportunity to ‘teach’ you. If they are no longer able, do a little research to find what traditions and/or practices their faith follows. Mary M. Toole wrote “Handbook for Chaplains – Comfort my People”, which you can find on Amazon. In her book, “Mary Toole focuses on eight different faith traditions. For each tradition, she provides a brief outline of the principle beliefs, information about birth, diet regulations, sickness, dying/death, and appropriate prayers that could be said with patients...”
Devotional Materials & Spiritual Symbols
If your loved one enjoyed devotional time each day, you can head to the bookstore to pick up a devotional book or two. Our Daily Bread offers free daily devotionals that you can receive in large print through the mail, or online through email, which comes with the option to have the devotional read aloud. Knowing and understanding a bit about your loved one’s religion will help you pick up spiritual books, other materials, and symbols that fit their preferences best. Keep these materials where they can be easily accessed, and replace/update as needed.
Music for the Soul
Spiritual music often provides great comfort and peace. It can be a call to worship or just an uplifting experience for a not so good day. Whether your loved one prefers favorite old hymns, gospel, or even more contemporary spiritual music, there are several ways you can add it into their day. You can purchase CD’s from their favorite artists, pull up songs from YouTube on your computer, or set up a free Pandora station with the type of spiritual music that they enjoy and play it directly from your smart TV or phone!
For a loved one who faithfully spent time in prayer but may have gotten out of the habit, or perhaps forgotten how, consider reminding and encouraging them by reintroducing prayers at mealtime, during times of sadness or pain, prayers of thanksgiving, and intercessory prayer for others. Again, knowing a little about the religion your loved one follows, can help you find books filled with prayers, which you can purchase and read together. Many of the Christian faith enjoy “The Valley of Vision” edited by Arthur Bennett, which is a book of Puritan Prayers, but you can find books for any religion at the bookstore or on Amazon to help support your loved one’s prayer life.
Congregating with others for worship is very important while they are able. But if your loved one gets to the point that they can no longer get out for worship you can find livestreamed services for the home-bound. A quick call to their place of worship, or an internet search can help you find available services that your loved one can watch from home. Encourage and assist them in doing so, and consider setting up visits from their spiritual leader or volunteer to provide communion, or other religious practices at home.
A Look Back
Bringing out old bibles, pictures, hymnals, bulletins or announcements for your loved one is a great way to help them relive important moments in their spiritual life. Family bibles will often contain a genealogy or family tree that you can use to reminisce with your loved one. Old pictures of marriages, births, Baptisms or Christenings will bring back wonderful memories as well.
Setting aside time each day for devotions, to listen to music, pray, and read together are great activities that can help keep your loved one active and engaged, while supporting and fulfilling their spiritual needs. Supporting your loved one’s spiritual needs is a wonderful gift that you can give them through each stage of this long journey, and may actually bring great comfort to you for your caregiver journey as well.