Home Equipping Leaders Older Adults Alter Dementia Is Creating Dementia-Friendly Congregations

Alter Dementia Is Creating Dementia-Friendly Congregations

By Lisa Jean Hoefner

Stock elderly woman with caretaker

As part of The United Methodist Church's mission to support the ongoing faith development of older adults within congregations, we must address the difficult health issues of Alzheimer's and dementia that affect some of our older adult members, their caregivers, and family members of all ages.

Did you know that Black Americans are two times as likely as White Americans to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias?

Black Americans are about two times as likely as White Americans to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias. That startling statistic prompted at least one United Methodist to pay attention and think about what could be done to address the issue.

Traditionally, one of the most vital assets in the Black community is the Black church. That insight motivated Dr. Fayron Epps, a professor of nursing at the University of Texas, Health San Antonio, and Emory University, to launch “Alter Dementia” in 2019 to help congregations make their services more welcoming to those with cognitive decline along with their families.

Alter Dementia, based in Atlanta, is a nurse-led program dedicated to creating dementia-friendly, African American faith-based organizations. Alter Dementia grew out of research investigating how much Black faith leaders already knew about dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Through comprehensive education, shared resources, and financial support, Alter Dementia equips churches to better serve their aging congregations.

Today, the program holds partnerships with eighty-five churches nationwide and in Ghana. Alter Dementia has received numerous awards for its innovations and contributions to dementia care in African American communities. The program has really taken root in the South.

Through comprehensive education, shared resources, and financial support, Alter Dementia equips churches to better serve their aging congregations.

Alter Dementia made history in April with the inception of the inaugural “Alter Dementia Summit: The Role of the Black Church,” where caregivers, researchers, and dementia advocates gathered from across the country to inspire Black churches to take charge and use their voices to increase awareness about dementia in the Black community. Often called a ministry, Alter Dementia has invested more than $100,000 in its church partners.

Click here to read about Alter's expansion to Los Angeles.

Programs like Alter Dementia demonstrate the power of faith-based communities supporting our aging members. By embracing these initiatives, United Methodist Church leaders can make a significant difference in the lives of those affected by dementia.

As you think about your setting for ministry,

  • What challenges have you observed or experienced related to dementia within your congregation?
  • Do you know someone in your church or community who has been affected by dementia? How has their experience affected you?
  • How can your church better support families and individuals dealing with dementia?
  • What steps can you take to educate your congregation about dementia and its effects?
  • How can you create a more dementia-friendly environment within your church?
  • Had you heard about programs like Alter Dementia before reading this article? What aspects of their approach do you find most compelling?
  • How can you leverage the resources and strategies used by Alter Dementia to benefit your church community?
  • With whom in your church could you collaborate to initiate a dementia-friendly program or support group?
  • What community partners or local organizations could provide support and resources?
  • How can you incorporate prayers, sermons, and discussions about dementia into church activities to raise awareness and provide support?
  • Consider enrolling in the Lay Servant Ministry course, “Ministry with the Forgotten: Dementia Through a Spiritual Lens” using Bishop Ken Carder’s book by that title.

For more information on how your church can become dementia-friendly, visit Alter Dementia’s website or contact Adrianne D. Jones, MA, CACTS, the Director of Public Relations at Alter Dementia.

Rev. Dr. Lisa Jean Hoefner is the Older Adult Ministries Coordinator for Discipleship Ministries. She has served as a pastor of churches and director of camping ministries in the New York, Susquehanna, Upper New York, Oregon-Idaho, and Cal-Nevada Conferences from 1975 to 2020.

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