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Neglecting your faith after a dementia diagnosis – what can you do?

Religion, faith or spiritual beliefs can provide a great deal of support to someone with dementia

To understand why a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia might start to neglect their faith, you need to really step into their shoes and look at things from their point of view.

Does this sound familiar?

– The person you care for feels unsure about going to church, mosque or temple because they can’t remember the protocols, traditions and things  supposed to say. They get lost during services.
– They’ve recently moved into a care home that’s no longer near their old church.
– They – or both of you – are questioning their faith, asking, ‘How could a seemingly benevolent God lump me with such a cruel disease?’

It’s quite common for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia to start neglecting their faith and stop going to their church, temple or mosque, but encouraging them to rediscover it can provide a source of comfort, stimulation and reminiscence.

The benefits of faith

It can be multi-sensory
It often involves sights, sounds, smell and touch which are instantly familiar and calming. For example, taking communion involves touch, sight and taste and could trigger safe, comforting feelings.

It triggers memory
Singing of hymns or incantations can be especially beneficial as they stir up memories from long ago. Perhaps it was a reading or prayer that was sung or read on their wedding day.

It’s sociable
Faith and religious groups can be a great way of meeting other people. Many religious communities have a strong social side, and it’s a good way to get involved. Often they’re a caring and supportive community that will support you both in tough times.

It can provide solace
However you both feel about the dementia journey, faith, religion and spiritual beliefs can provide a way of looking at the world in a different way, they encourages mindfulness and a peaceful, benevolent outlook.

Routine and reason to get out
Religious services and meetings can provide a meaningful activity to encourage a person with dementia to get out of the house.

Finding faith again
In order to help someone, you need to understand their longer life story and the connection they had with religion.

Ask yourself:

Were they a regular church goer or did they prefer attending occasional services at particular times of the year such as Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Passover or Diwali.

Did they enjoy helping out behind the scenes, setting up after-service refreshments, volunteering, singing in a choir or arranging flowers?

Depending on their dementia and how capable they are, they may still be able to take part in many of these activities – so why not encourage them?

And most importantly, you need to ensure that they have access to the right kind of service or style of religion that they were used to. Some people love lots of singing, clapping and dancing, while others will prefer quiet meditation and may be put off by lots of noise.

Faith traditions can tap into old comforting memories and provide a deep sense of contentment. So if the person you love used to enjoy their religion, there’s every reason to believe they still might.