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Dementia and Ageing

Church Responses to Dementia

On 2nd October we continued our series of conversations about subjects important to churches in reaching out to their communities. This time, we gathered people who have a particular interest in working with people with dementia, to share stories about our activities and make suggestions on how to expand what is happening in our communities.

We began the day with some thoughts on what ‘Dementia Friendly’ means, and how nurturing the spirituality of a person remains important even when short term memory and understanding of the present environment are limited.

It was wonderful to follow this with a discussion led by NE Churches Acting Together officer Joanne Thorns, about the practical ways in which churches are carrying out this ministry. A variety of activities like memory cafés, singing groups and pastoral visits to care homes are on offer for people with dementia and their carers and everyone was generous in sharing their ideas and open about challenges they have faced. We talked about the importance of involving everyone in activities and worship, not just looking to reach people with dementia and thereby creating a sense of separation, but intentionally making activities accessible for people with dementia and therefore inclusive for all. There were personal stories of the differences that have been seen in people we have worked with, and an incredible sense of energy and passion for raising awareness of dementia in our churches and around the diocese.

Several people said this was their favourite part of the day, saying they had enjoyed ‘listening to everyone’s ideas and stories, very interesting and moving’

Following this, Rev Jen Croft, vicar of St Cuthbert’s Ormesby and part of the Dementia Friendly Churches Middlesbrough team, led us through ways to develop a Dementia Friendly service, describing the important factors in making a service accessible and meaningful for people with dementia - for example repetition and interaction. Jen talked about ways to involve people by asking questions that might invoke happy memories, using memory boxes or live performance, and making sure that carols and prayers were well-known and traditional so everyone could join in.

Bill Braviner, the diocese Disability Adviser then shared some ‘quick wins’ to make churches and services more Dementia Friendly – we had already set up some examples of this like clear signage around the venue, but it was generally agreed that the most effective way to become more Dementia Friendly was to raise awareness and make sure that we as churches were always ready to welcome everyone, including those with dementia and other disabilities.

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We finished the morning with a ‘What next..?’ conversation, and hope to follow up the event with more opportunities to get together and share ideas, possibilities of developing an accreditation for churches wishing to become officially Dementia Friendly, and ideas around setting up a working group to raise awareness throughout the diocese and champion the Dementia Friendly cause. A big thank you to everyone who attended and shared their stories, and to those who couldn’t be with us but are also carrying out this important ministry.

Please do get in touch if you are interested in finding out more about anything to do with working with people with dementia, their friends and family, or just want to be kept informed about future meetings and conversations.