Updated: Oct 6
Caring for a person with dementia is complex and time consuming. By the end of the day, when you’ve met the person’s physical and medical needs, and attended to the household tasks, it can be easy to neglect another important aspect of a person’s care – their spiritual needs.
Spirituality and religious traditions are deeply engrained in a person usually from a very young age. From birth until death, these traditions become part of a person’s ‘DNA.’
How is spirituality affected if a person develops dementia? Spirituality remains strong within a person and usually doesn’t change with a diagnosis of dementia. It continues to be a part of that person’s identity, and although dementia may cause changes to behavior and personality, who they are as a person remains.
Have you ever heard a person with dementia with limited communication skills recite a prayer or sing several verses of a hymn and know all the words? Have you wondered why they can remember the words to a prayer and say them clearly but not be able to otherwise form a sentence? The reason has to do with different parts of the brain that are affected by dementia.
The left side of the brain is responsible for language including vocabulary, comprehension and speech production. The right side of the brain is responsible for rhythm including poetry, prayer, songs, music, and dancing. Dementia affects the left and right sides of the brain asymmetrically. In other words, the left side of the brain is damaged more extensively by dementia than the right side and as a result, the words to songs and prayers tend to be preserved.
How can you help meet a person’s spiritual needs?
Take them to a church service.
Make sure they have religious symbols and objects close by to touch and look at.
Arrange for a visitor from the congregation to come to the home.
Show them the website of the church and read the news.
Pick up the weekly bulletin for them to look at.
Reminisce using photos of important events that took place within the church – baptisms and weddings, for example.
Play gospel music.
Watch religious services shown ‘live’ online or on television.
Recite daily prayers with them.
What are the benefits of helping a person maintain connections to their spirituality? It has been shown that people with dementia who continue to be involved with their spiritual life, report a higher quality of life and satisfaction than those who do not. Meeting a person’s spiritual needs may also:
Create structure and routine to the day or week.
Provide comfort to the person if they are confused or irritated.
Be a source of normalcy when the person is anxious or upset about the changes that are happening to their life.
Initiate moments of joy and happiness for the person.
Help fill moments in the day and engage the person in meaningful activities.
Keep them socially involved with members of the church community.
Provide you with respite time to do something else while the person has a visitor, listens to music, reads from the Bible or watches a service.
Perhaps what is most important is the fact that you will be helping the person to fulfill a very important part of themselves. Music, prayers and poetry are gifts that you can use on your journey to care for a person with dementia. Make the most of them!
Questions about caring for a loved one with dementia? Takacs McGinnis may be able to help. Just give us a call at 615.824.2571.