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Touch the Spirit®

Posted on: Mar 31, 2021

Christian Horizons, a faith based non-profit senior living provider, is proud to be introducing a new memory care program called Pathway Memory Support®. Program components include new and enhanced training, a focus on communication and life-story work, creative problem solving around dementia related behavior, and enhancements to our activity programming to create a fun and fulfilling day for people living with cognitive loss. 

As part of this innovative and life-affirming memory care program, we are launching a spiritually themed activity program called Touch the Spirit®. 

Why is spiritual care so important for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia? 

Dr. Daniel C. Potts, a well-regarded neurologist in Alabama, who has lectured extensively on the subject, says it well, “The older I become, the more I see dementia care as a spiritual endeavor.” Dr. Potts suggests that keeping people with dementia (and their caregivers) connected to their faith communities or to their broader spiritual practices supports “sustenance and well-being.”

Professor John Swinton, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland talks about treating people with dementia spiritually, and that thinking about care in this way allows you to deliver care in a gentler, more sensitive, and successful way. 

Here are a few pointers about how to deliver spiritual care to people living with dementia:

Understand the person’s past religious or spiritual practices – Sadly, people with dementia often forget even long-held practices and rituals. If we provide a cue or begin talking with them about a favorite prayer or spiritual reading, memories often come back and the person with dementia can fully participate in a meaningful spiritual activity. 

Embrace the power of spiritual music – For people with dementia, music and song lyrics typically survive longer than written and spoken language. Be sure to surround your family member with his or her favorite religious hymns or spiritual music. Music evokes memory and emotion and can help a person with dementia feel closer to God.

Reminisce about church life – If your family member was active in a church for many years, talk to him or her about their time spent singing in the church choir, volunteering with children, or chairing an annual fundraiser. Sometimes a gentle cue will bring back many memories and even some memorable and funny stories (the visiting minister who had a one hour sermon).

Discuss meaningful topics – The contemporary view of dementia is that people with dementia are, in many ways, just like the rest of us. They share the need to be needed, and the desire to stay connected to friends, family, and community. Encourage your family member to share feelings, pass on life lessons, and talk about important personal milestones. Ask your family member for advice about your own life journey – when you ask someone for advice, it means you value him or her. 

Embrace a broader view of spirituality – While not everyone is a member of a faith community, I believe that everyone has a spirit that is nourished by a relationship with God, their community, friends, family, and nature. You can practice true spiritual care by keeping a person with dementia engaged in life be it time spent with family (reading to grandchildren), involvement in a community project (baking dog biscuits for the local animal shelter), or time spent in nature (admiring a beautiful rainbow and talking about it).

Dr. Tom Kitwood, an early dementia researcher from England, applauded the important role of family members who support a person with Alzheimer’s disease of other dementia. He wrote that, “Caregivers are physicians of the human spirit.”

Thank you for all you do to support dignity, kindness and quality care for people living with dementia.

Dr. Keith H. Ray is the Vice President of Mission Integration and Development at Christian Horizons.

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