Many caregivers find that religious or spiritual beliefs can be a great comfort on the dementia journey
You’re having a bad day. You’re feeling stressed, exhausted, and pretty low. It’s on days like this that carers who have strong religious or spiritual beliefs say they find the greatest solace.
It seems that having faith in God, Allah or another higher power can help to make sense of experiences that may otherwise make no sense at all. Most importantly of all perhaps, faith can bring with it a renewed sense of purpose – a reason to keep going.
Studies support this view. Some suggest that carers with a strong belief system might even have a better relationship with the person they care for. One small study also found that caregivers who used their religious or spiritual beliefs to help them cope had lower levels of depression.
But one of the most significant benefits of having a belief in a ‘higher power’ is that it can make the challenges and difficulties of the dementia journey a little easier to accept. Many carers who have a spiritual belief system say that they don’t struggle quite so much with the, ‘Why me? Why us? It’s just not fair…’ questions. Instead, they choose to trust that whatever they are going through – however unfair it may feel – is all part of a ‘bigger plan.’ And while they may not understand what the plan is… they trust that it is for the best.
This attitude can bring with it a sense of calm. After all, a carer who feels they are ‘doing the right thing’ is bound to have more peace of mind than someone who remains doubtful or uncertain.
However, the faith journey can still be a bumpy ride. Even those with the strongest of faiths can find that the dementia journey has a way of testing it. Often.
Nevertheless, if your faith brings you comfort and/or remains an important part of your life, there are many good reasons not to neglect it.
5 reasons to keep the faith
Faith groups and religious services can be a great way of meeting other people. Many religious communities have a strong social side. Often, they’re a caring and supportive community that will support you and the person you care about in tough times.
It offers companionship
Connecting with others through spiritual practice can be very uplifting. Professor Benjamin Mast has researched what caregivers say they need from their faith communities. “The number one response that I got over and over again was presence,” he says. “They would tell me things like, ‘I would just love to have a phone call, from somebody from the church, to check in on me and to see how I was doing.’ What they were telling me was they didn’t really need some elaborate intervention or something complicated, but they wanted to feel as if they had somebody to go with them on this journey.”
It provides solace
However you feel about dementia and how it impacts your life, your faith can provide a way of looking at it in a different way, bringing a sense of belonging, identity and safety. It can also help to lessen fear and worry and encourage a more mindful and benevolent outlook.
It provides comfort for the person you care about
Perhaps you could worship together? Being able to practise their faith can be very reassuring and calming for someone with dementia. Visiting a church, mosque or synagogue they’re familiar with can be particularly beneficial – the sights, sounds and smells of a religious service are often very comforting. So is singing hymns, listening to familiar readings or saying prayers.
…and practical support too
Faith groups often have the means to provide day to day support for people with dementia, including help with transport and meals. And if they can’t help, they are also pretty good at signposting to other services who can…Which all helps you too.
Two great resources
Whatever your belief system, these two free booklets provide lots of information and advice to help you and the person you care for continue practicing your faith.
Building dementia-friendly faith communities
Dementia Friendly Church Guide