Five Million and Growing - Issue #115
Today there are more than five million people in the United States who are afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, and by 2050 as many as 16 million people may have the disease. Nearly every United Methodist congregation has members who have dementia or are caretakers for someone with dementia.
New Covenant United Methodist Church in The Villages, Florida, is a growing congregation with most of its members over the age of 55. Since age is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer's, the congregation recognized a particular need to be in ministry with people experiencing the effects of this disease and other forms of dementia.
New Covenant sponsors four Alzheimer's Care Giver Support Groups that each meet twice a month. Family members of people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia gather for education, prayer, support, and encouragement. In addition, New Covenant United Methodist Church hosts three full-day workshops each year for caregivers.
The church occasionally sponsors gatherings that include both the support group members and their family members with dementia. Special celebrations are provided during holidays.
An important element that facilitates participation in the support groups is the respite care that is provided during the meeting times. In addition, pairs of committed, trained volunteers provide respite care at other times, allowing caregivers a few hours a week of physical and spiritual replenishment.
Some Questions for Discussion
- Do you know who in your congregation is dealing with dementia, including caregivers? Are they still active in the life of the congregation or have they gradually withdrawn from participation? What might be done to help them keep connected to the church?
- What support services are available in your community for those dealing with dementia? Are the caregiving ministries in your congregation equipped to help point people to these services if needed?
- As you consider the demographics of your congregation, what do you expect to be emerging needs in the next decade?