Until recently, I’ve been working in the field of dementia within health and social care, for over 10 years. I’ve also experienced the impact of dementia in our family when my Granny was diagnosed in her 90’s and seen the impact on families when I was a social worker. Probably because I struggle with my own memory, it’s always fascinated me, and recently we’ve been running a dementia church as a project during my vicar training at St Luke’s in York, UK. Its been amazing to experience spirituality in a new way through people with dementia and those who are caring for them.
Repetition seems to be important, as I guess it helps us all remember and orientate ourselves to what we are doing, so we try and keep the format short and simple and theme it to what’s relevant at the time of year as much as the church calendar. The really special bit for me though is seeing people remember that God loves them. It’s not always possible to remember his blessings in our life, at the best of times, for any of us, but, especially difficult without the prompts and reminders that we get day to day through our music, our reading, our listening and pondering. Like revisiting an old friendship that you’d never expected to pick up again, Dementia and church is sometimes a really lovely combination.
So far we’ve had over 15 people with dementia attend, although only a maximum of about 5 or 6 in one service. With each person comes a family, a carer and a network of well-wishers, so often we have 20 people to support 5 people with dementia to worship so for me that makes it extra special that God wants to usher in those who have forgotten their way. Just running the service has helped raise awareness of the issues facing our own congregation, and also broaden out the reach of the church to others in our local community and extended family.
I helped run a seminar yesterday about the Forget me Not service, and have been reflecting, particularly on the music. The music we use seems to be really important, and we’ve tried all sorts of approaches. Some of the ones that worked really well, were experienced more as a mood than a hymn, like Abba Father, and others are more of a movement ( we march up and down!) than a performance like When the Saints. Early on though when Bill shouted out ‘more, more!’ after When the Saints came on we knew we had a winner. We had ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’ and the mood sank… I found out afterwards it was because alot of people choose this for their funeral! Trying to explain what works to other people has been tricky, and I was really fascinated to watch this video clip which shows how individual personal playlists can be recreated on ipods for people with dementia to great effect.. and of course, I’m now wondering how we could use this technology to bring the forget me not experience to a wider audience! Hope you enjoy the clip (warning: you may cry!)
As ever please do comment, and if you know anyone else doing similar work I’d love to swap notes. Our services are based in the community but open to anyone living in a care home to join us.