Home Equipping Leaders Older Adults Ministering With Families Facing Dementia

Ministering With Families Facing Dementia

By Sheila Welch

Dementia Article

One of the greatest blessings of my life comes from sharing in the lives of care partners as they love family members through Alzheimer’s or related dementias. Four out of five of these families fracture under the stresses of caregiving. Emotionally, spiritually, financially, and psychologically—their needs guide our dementia ministry at every turn.

Often, through tears, they tell me some version of the following: “My wife and I supported, loved, and participated in our church all our lives … until dementia came. Now, friends, family, even clergy do not visit or call.”

Theologian John Swinton tells us, “The problem is not that people with dementia forget. The problem is that they are forgotten”.

Retired United Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder says that when the church forgets these families, it would be easy for families to believe that God has forgotten them, also.

Care partners often ask me, “Where is God in all this?” My faith tells me that God is where God has always been. The question, instead, should be, “Where are we, the church, in all this?”

How do we begin to minister with families facing dementia? The answers will be as different as the faiths, the communities, and the leaders themselves.

Our dementia ministry in Marietta, Georgia, began with a simple conversation in our church parking lot. Two friends, each loving their mothers through Alzheimer’s, found life-altering comfort in talking with each other. They invited others to join them for what became our church’s first family support group. They had no budget, no plan. What they did have was a longing to make the dementia journey easier for the next family, to let them know that they were not alone.

How do we begin to minister with families facing dementia? The answers will be as different as the faiths, the communities, and the leaders themselves.

Today, the conversation that began in our church parking lot has evolved into Loving Through Dementia, a free, all-volunteer outreach program offering help, hope, inspiration, and education to families facing dementia. We offer multiple support groups, annual dementia family conferences, multifaith and community leaders’ workshops, and free private consultations.

The website, lovingthroughdementia.org, provides guidance for families facing dementia. Its “Action Plan” provides a list of ways for churches, small and large, to better serve and better love these families. It offers guidance and resources to help make their choice of service a reality, sending the clear message, “You are not forgotten!”

Ours is a thriving ministry, yes, but that is not my message. My message is this: “We did not begin where we are today!” It is not important how big the beginning is; it is beginning that is important! Lovingthroughdementia.org is here to help.

Sheila Welch, dementia advocate and educator, is the developer and coordinator of Loving Through Dementia and its website, lovingthroughdementia.org. Sheila’s family has lost eight beloved members, including her mother, to Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Their journeys, along with the journeys of the families this ministry continues to serve, inspire her work today.

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