For many with dementia, going to church can be a gateway to unlocking memories, and now the Anglican church is to re-examine its services to make them more suitable for those with the condition
The sights and sounds, the instinctive rhythms of religious rites – they all have the power to revive long dormant memories in many with dementia and memory problems.
It’s why the Church of England is beginning a move to make services more accessible and suitable for people with dementia, as part of changes implemented by the Liturgical Commission.
This will involve encouraging clerics running services to use the more traditional forms of prayers, in particular, the older version of the Lord’s Prayer. In the last thirty years, there was a move to swap out words such as “thy” and “thine” for “you” and “yours”, and to simplify religious terms so they’re easier to understand. However, these new steps could be reversed in many services, because those with dementia are more likely to remember the more traditional words and versions of prayers.
The older UK population, a group of people that are not only growing, but are also most likely to go to church still, are also being more regularly affected by dementia. The Church hope that the familiar texts, prayers and passages of scriptures, which are often learnt by heart in childhood, could trigger memories and provide moments of calmness and clarity.
This is also part of a wider move to create more dementia-friendly services, that draw not only on words and sounds, but also touch and taste. This includes handing out prayer books with textured covers, and items to hold during the service.
Dr Matthew Salisbury, the Church of England’s national liturgy and worship adviser, who works for the commission, explained:
‘By 2039 almost 1.5 million people in the UK are going to be living with dementia.
‘The implications for the Church of England and our mission to this nation can be easily imagined. We are not just talking about people with dementia but also those who are caring for them and those who worship alongside them.
‘The idea is that initially we look at what people are doing that is good, that really works. It is high priority for us so we are going to pay this a great deal of attention.’
He also stressed how effective faith can be in making a connection with someone with dementia:
‘You may get nothing out of someone and then chime in and say “Oh Lord open Thou our lips” and they will come straight in with “And our mouth shall show forth thy praise”.’
Rt Revd Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter, and chair of the Liturgical Commission, says the changes could help ‘unlock the gates of memory’ for some worshippers.
‘Journeying alongside those living with dementia is a costly business, but hugely important in our society where dementia is on the increase.
‘Many find that the familiar words of worship and the singing of hymns reach into confusion and unlock the gates of memory.
‘As a Commission we are working in partnership with specialists in this area to encourage good practice and create resources for dementia-friendly services so that sufferers and carers alike can be assured of God’s love and compassion.’
For information about how faith can support those with dementia, click here.