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Additional info for A Guide to the Spiritual Dimension of Care for People With Alzheimer s Disease and Related Dementia: More Than Body, Brain, and Breath

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Of all old people in New Zealand, over 90 per cent live in their own homes (Koopman-Boyden 1993). The figures for the UK are very similar. However, while these statistics are widely available, my own Methodist Church here in New Zealand, in the process of restructuring and planning the future, made little provision for this new context of ministry. Instead, in the minds of some, the criteria for a successful ministry and the successful parish remain as they were in the 1950s and 1960s: a bulging Sunday school and a large, lively youth group.

Quite often, the person at this stage of the disease maintains there is nothing to go to the doctor about, and stubbornly refuses. That is when a wise social worker can help. He or she will know that a person with Alzheimer’s disease at this stage is often capable of presenting very well for the usual maximum 15 minutes of the doctor’s consultation time. Added to this difficulty is the fact that generally the person will look the picture of good health. The priest or minister without this knowledge can be downright unhelpful.

All these will be experienced without the blurring of consciousness, drowsiness or sleepiness that can occur with a reversible dementia. In many ways dementia is an unfortunate term for the use of lay people because for some it may have connotations of madness. People with a dementia illness may sometimes behave strangely and a few may even become aggressive for short periods if their needs are not understood. However, they are not insane. Rather, they are people with failing mental powers. It is helpful to remember that we accept kidney failure, heart failure, pancreas failure, even bladder and bowel failures, without prejudice.

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