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What can a faith community do . . .

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 WHEN DEMENTIA COMES TO CALL

“Throughout my journey, I am changing. It is not my choice, it is the condition. Who will stand with me? Who will travel with me? Who will remain or become my friend and partner in this journey I must make? Will you see me as less than you, or will you see as a beautiful and precious GEM who may indeed provide new opportunities to explore connections beyond the surface, to enjoy moments of pleasure, to share times of struggle and distress. Will you be as we have been charged to be, servants of our faith?”

Linda Abel_1501When dementia comes to call — on an individual and his or her surrounding family and friends, even those of those of us who care very deeply can feel helpless and confused, even afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Questions abound. What can we do to help? How should we respond? How can we be prepared as a faith community to do all we can to support and remain faithful to those who face this disease referred to as “present day leprosy” by internationally renowned dementia and Alzheimer’s care pioneer Teepa Snow?

“Dementia is feared, avoided, and those who live with it are all too often shunned and isolated,” Snow remarks, and then goes on to further explain this comparison. “Unlike leprosy, dementia is not contagious. Like leprosy, it has a terrible stigma and social rejection associated with it. For people of faith, this growing cultural concern issues a specific challenge: How can we learn more, do more — care more?

In answer to Teepa’s question — and her challenge to our nation’s faith communities — FUMCFW will become a model for bringing Teepa Positive Approach to Care™ into faith communities. We are grateful for the generous bequest from the estate and family of longtime church member Bernie Ostby that is making this bold adventure possible. (See the full story in the current issue of CONNECT Magazine and check out the schedule of learning opportunities.)

“We can honor the members of our faith community better and more fully if we appreciate what is happening for them and how we can create places, spaces, opportunities, and connections that meet their needs and preferences,” Teepa Snow explains. “We have developed programs for our youth and children to help them grow in the faith community. In the later stages of dementia, many people retain the ability to share the prayers of childhood, the hymns of praise and comfort, and the rhythms and rituals of worship. Together we can supply that which is needed for wellness and community.”

Snow says that while we cannot change the destination of dementia, what we can do as a faith community is change the journey. By equipping ourselves with education, building specific sets of skills, and learning how to recognize and respond to the changes this disease process brings in how someone thinks, speaks, and behaves, we can learn how to become the faithful friends who will provide comfort and connection during this time of transition and change.

It’s time for US, as people of faith, to ask, “Can we learn more, do more, and care more to become the pioneers who help make a difference in changing the culture of dementia care?” With the programs we are providing over the next 15 months leading up to Teepa’s live presentation at FUMCFW in September 2018, we will bridge the gap between where we are now and where we need to be in order to help change this journey for good — in our community and in our world.

Linda Abel

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