This strikes me as an important effort to minister to a population that is, for one reason or another, largely under-served by the church. From the Catholic Register in Canada:
An Ottawa man is on a mission to make Canadian places of worship more welcoming to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who suffer from dementia.
With January being Alzheimer Awareness Month in Canada, a Mass at a Catholic Church in Ottawa on Jan. 26 is part of an effort by Matthew Dineen to help Canadian places of worship do more to reach out to those with dementia. He wants to make sure that they know they are welcome to continue being a vital part of their church community.
Dineen of Dementia Advocacy Canada says that places of worship and Canadian society as a whole need to do more to meet the needs of Canadians who suffer from dementia so that they are not isolated from the rest of society.
Dineen said that with dementia the body may be failing, but a person’s soul, their spiritual side, still needs and can benefit from staying connected to their places of worship.
“People with dementia are still capable of responding to God,” he said.
Dineen’s advocacy comes from personal experience. His wife Lisa was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia at the age of 43 in 2013 and was subsequently placed in long-term care.
Since then he has committed himself to pushing for societal changes to make life easier for Canadians who suffer from dementia and has been working on a set of guidelines on how places of worship can be part of those changes.
Last year, the paper profiled Dieneen and offered more details:
David Rebelo, palliative care chaplain at Providence Healthcare in Toronto, sees how daily Mass, prayers and hymns bring calm and hope to patients struggling to clear a path through their synapses.
“I see people who, whether they have dementia or not, their most important thing is to be at Mass,” Rebelo said. “I saw it with my own dad. I mean, he insisted on going to church every day when he started to have dementia and it developed into Alzheimer’s.”
While most Catholic church-goers are kind and try to be helpful to fellow parishioners who have memory loss, that’s a long way off a plan to deal with a 66-per-cent increase in dementia sufferers over the next 12 years predicted by the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
“There ought to be a specific plan,” Rebelo said.
At the Alzheimer’s Society of Saskatchewan, public awareness co-ordinator Abby Wolfe has had some success helping Anglican and Lutheran parishes think their way through dementia. She’s made presentations to staff and volunteers, helping them to imagine what it’s like for a person with dementia to arrive at the front door of the church and make their way into the building.
“We know that people with dementia have changes in the way they process visual information,” said Wolfe.
“So something like a black mat near a doorway, or patterned flooring, might be perceived as a hole or perhaps water or a wet area,” she said.
Having people ready to guide, reassure and even lend a supportive arm as they walk to their pew can make a huge difference.
“It’s already sort of that ingrained nature to be supportive, to be welcoming and to look out and to care for our community members, especially in church,” Wolfe said.