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Dancing with Dementia and why the church is so important

The Dementia Friendly Churches programme works with church leaders on how to best support people with dementia within the church and in the community. Livability Associate Trevor Adams tells us why this work is so important.

Trevor Adams 450x450

What is dementia?

Dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.

How many people have dementia in the UK?

About 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK at the moment. By 2025 over one million people are expected to be diagnosed with dementia. By 2051 there will be over two million people with dementia – the combined population size of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham!

Dementia can occur at any age but is much more common in older people, particularly people over the age of 80. Older people are much more likely to have other health conditions in addition to the dementia and this often gives rise to difficulties providing health and social care.

It is also easy to forget that there are over 42,000 people with dementia under the age of 65 in the UK and that they often have particular challenges around employment and support for their family, for example.

Only part of the support needed by people with dementia is picked up by the health and social care services. Often family carers give substantial support which is 24/7, without any holidays, training or safe environments making them physically and emotionally exhausted.

What role have churches to play?

Churches are an important part of the local community. With other organisations churches are able to help make their community dementia friendly so that things like going to the shops, library and banks are manageable for as many people with dementia as possible.

At Livability we have developed the idea that churches should be ‘dementia friendly’. We believe that churches should welcome all people, including people with dementia who have something important and distinctive to contribute.

How can churches further support people with dementia and their families?

Various organisations put on ‘Dementia Friends’ sessions and this is a good way of learning the basics about people with dementia.

Livability offers workshops that enable churches become dementia friendly. The workshop comprises extended information about dementia, insights from the Bible and practical tips that will help churches develop dementia friendly worship, prayer, buildings and enable them to work with other local organisations that are seeking to create a dementia friendly community. The workshop includes ‘Dementia Friend’s’ session .

Do you have an example of a church that really supports people with dementia and their family?

Livability has been working with Church of England Parish of Castleford in Yorkshire to develop a dementia friendly church.

The church has made people with dementia a priority through a range of innovative and pioneering activities like the introduction of a dementia friendly service and it is now a standing item on all their Parochial Church Council meetings.

It’s particularly impressive how the Castleford initiative has also made links with services such as the Alzheimer’s Society and the NHS Dementia Nurse Specialist who also contribute to their activities.

A member of the Castleford clergy was even invited to become a Chair of the local Dementia Action Alliance.

This very much fits with Livability’s approach which sees dementia friendly churches not just enhancing the dementia friendliness of churches but also joining together with other organisations that are creating a dementia friendly community.

What can people at Greenbelt take away from the Dancing with Dementia workshop?

The ‘Dancing with Dementia Workshop’ is based on the idea that giving care to a relative is like having a dance.

Family carers often have to work very closely with family members who have dementia and may have to do many things such as having to help the person with dementia wash, shave, and go to the toilet.

Giving care to a relative with dementia therefore is a bit like dancing with someone who does not know all the right steps or perhaps does them in the wrong order.

This calls for the carer to know their relative really well and almost have an intuitive awareness about what their relative is going to do next even though it might not be the right thing to do!

Our workshop will help family carers of relatives with dementia give care to people with dementia and make sure they look after their own health too.

At Greenbelt this year, Livability will be asking the question ‘Is church good for you?’ What do you think?

The Bible closely links teaching with practice and so an effective church is one whose actions correspond to the ‘Kingdom values’ of peace and justice.

Christians and churches are called to walk in Jesus’s steps and are the light and salt of the world. While many churches have many older people, often they seem largely unaware of older people, including people with dementia.

My vision is that churches should contain a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and cultures, young and old, and people with and without dementia.

We are hosting three major programme slots at Greenbelt this year, on wellbeing, dementia and mental health. Join in the community conversation with Livability this year at Greenbelt or on Facebook or Twitter.

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