Supporting religion & spirituality with dementia residents – 5 tips to success

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Supporting religion & spirituality with dementia residents – 5 tips to success

Posted on October 27, 2014

The National Wellness Institute says spiritual wellness is essential to quality of life and that it is better to live each day in a way that is consistent with our values and beliefs than to do otherwise and feel untrue to ourselves.  For people with dementia, helping to maintain a link or reconnect with their religion as part of their provision of care has the potential to increase their sense of well-being. It has been acknowledged by CMS and major assisted living and nursing home associations, that providing person-centered care that responds to the individual’s needs, including those relating to spirituality and religion, is extremely important.

Recently the Alzheimer’s Society collected the views of people with dementia, including some with more advanced dementia living in nursing homes, and found that the ability to practice faith or religion was one of the key quality of life indicators for them.

Supporting spirituality and religion in residents with dementia is challenging, as a typical community sees a huge diversity in religious and spiritual needs among their residents. Some assisted living communities see 10-15 or more beliefs that they need to cater to. It is also challenging as one needs to take into account the degree of dementia and adapt the typical sermon or worship. Here are 5 tips to support religion & spirituality among dementia residents, some from the New York Department of Health:

1. Worship should be kept short: 20-30 minutes, less than 5 for advanced dementia. Persons with dementia have shortened attention spans and often become anxious when away from their caregivers.
2. Inviting physical space: The area used for the service should be inviting and accessible to wheelchairs, canes and walkers.
3. Music is essential: Music is the most accessible element of religious services for persons with dementia because it touches the heart and spirit through the senses and emotions, bypassing “the thinking brain” that is devastated by dementia.Religious music allows persons with dementia to experience a connection with their faith when they are no longer able to connect in the ways they once did.
– It also provides them with a way of connecting with their family in a familiar and comforting setting where they can cope with their mutual grief and sense of loss over the devastation of dementia as well as experience their joy in sharing in community as a family once again.
– The music and hymns chosen for the service are those that would have been sung and heard by participants when they were children or young adults.
– The old hymnals, the old translations, the old versions rather than the new and revised materials are used.
– Music that has been found to work well for different faith services for residents with dementia is used.
4. Selected readings, prayers and hymns: illustrating themes of comfort, hope and steadfastness are used. Here are samples.

5. Sensory cues: provided by religious objects and symbols (such as holy water, statues, candles, menorah, wine, rosary, prayer shawl, Communion Host, the old Latin or Hebrew language, incense, vestments, cross or crucifix, familiar prayer books, medals, scapular and the Torah) from the childhood and young adulthood of persons with dementia are used to help them to know where they are and to provide concrete objects rooted in long-term memory to stimulate retained behavioral abilities.