When Words Fail

We explore sacraments and traditions to draw us back and help us remember.

Living in the recesses of our minds are scriptures and poetry and stories, waiting to be recalled. All of these can be windows into the soul of an individual living with dementia. A special seminar, “When Words Fail,” offers clergy resources for connecting with parishioners with memory loss.

The Rev. Kathy F. Berry leads Westminster Canterbury Richmond’s memory support ministry, and she developed the seminar to help clergy better understand the spiritual needs of parishioners living with dementia. “When words fail the person with memory loss, they often fail visitors as well,” she said. “You have to develop a new way to communicate with each other. Visiting becomes a critical component in the resident’s spiritual and emotional care.” In order to understand the physiology of the disease, a nurse educator is included in seminars to provide medical background about memory-loss diseases.

In the United States, the fastest growing population segment is 85 years and older. More than 50 percent of these adults will have some form of dementia in their lifetime. And a Gallup Poll found that faith is of high importance in adults 75 and older. How can you address both of these statistics if you have a loved one facing dementia? Rev. Berry gave us four practical ideas for meeting their needs:

  • Find out what nurtures their spirit and help them continue that activity. For example, perhaps it is enjoying an afternoon in the garden watching the birds or listening to opera. Your loved one may be no longer able to do these activities alone but would enjoy having the experience.
  • Help your loved one to still feel as if they have a purpose in life. Maybe they enjoy knitting knit hats for the Salvation Army or making pies for the church bake sale. If possible, do these activities with them so they can still feel valuable.
  • Visit often, and bring photo albums. Create an aesthetic journey though the images by helping your loved one recall the feeling that each event evoked. Even though they might not remember who the individual people are, they can revisit the pleasure of the sand between their toes or the pounding ocean.
  • Remind them that God is always with them and will never leave.

If you would like more information on our unique and compassionate memory support program or Rev. Berry’s seminars, please contact Kathy Berry at KBerry@wcrichmond.org or 804-261-5398.

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