Religion is a comfort, even for people with dementia.
Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark. . .
Nobel Prize-winning Indian Poet
In the course of dementia, a time will come when the patient stops going to her place of worship, stops reading the Bible or other literature important to her faith, and stops praying. With poor attention span and memory loss problems, people with dementia simply lack the personal resources to fulfill this need themselves. We found, however, that given the opportunity to participate in religious services, even in small ways, our residents received some comfort. This was a benefit we could not deny them.
Our administrator occasionally joined the residents if she was available and would often bring music from home. One afternoon, she brought the Statler Brothers’ Radio Gospel Favorites, which we played for the group. The residents who were able, sang along. As usual, Walter walked through the room several times, seemingly oblivious to the music. However, when Amazing Grace was playing, I heard someone whistling along beautifully. It was Walter.
Obviously, Walter knew Amazing Grace well and, although unable to speak or sing, he was able to whistle along. When the song ended, Walter went about his business wandering from place to place. We all wondered how a gospel hymn could reach into the parts of Walter’s mind that held his fading memories and bring him back to reality, even for just a few minutes.
Many of the professionals I’ve worked with tell stories about residents in the later stages of dementia suddenly having a moment or two of clarity. Walter’s was triggered by Amazing Grace, and his brief accompaniment truly did amaze us all. Considering his response and our residents’ love of gospel music, I realized we were remiss in not addressing the religious needs of the residents on the special care unit.
Spiritual and religious activities may be an important part of a person’s life and imbedded in their long-term memory. People who have no short-term memory often remember the words to familiar hymns and many are still able to recite prayers. These individuals may be comforted by their faith and respond well to occasional religious services; however, people with dementia come from different backgrounds and cultures and any services offered should reflect this.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual to find that the religious preferences and needs of the individual receiving dementia care have been forgotten. Religion does play an important part in the lives of many people. Patients should not be denied access to the comfort it offers just because they have dementia.