November: Alzheimer's Awareness Month

Man in lab coat

November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. “Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, deadly brain disease for which there is no cure, and is not a normal part of healthy aging. Researchers are still working to discover the root cause of the disease, but it’s widely believed to be due to the buildup of misfolded proteins between nerve cells, which causes brain damage.” Six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and there are three million new cases of the disease diagnosed every year.

Ten signs of Alzheimer’s are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning and solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Change in mood and personality

Families facing a dementia-causing disease struggle with disbelief, isolation, embarrassment, fear, anger, and/or guilt. “An accepting, reassuring, and uncritical attitude from an informed church community can make a difference. For many families—the church community is the last available social contact, source of meaning, respite, refuge, and identity. It’s the place that is expected to welcome everyone, to be a sanctuary…a safe place where one is known and welcomed with unconditional love.” 

We can help persons dealing with memory loss feel more welcome in the church by:

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of memory loss and dementia. With knowledge we can better understand the challenges and frustrations our friends are facing and the social isolation they might be feeling.

  • Welcoming persons with memory loss or dementia into the congregation. Help them feel welcome. Take it in stride if the person is restless or has a memory glitch. Don’t let the person feel embarrassed or “put on the spot.” Allow time for responses and show your appreciation of the person.
  • Making eye contact and using the person’s name as you converse. Introduce yourself, speak in warm tones, and give the person time to process what you are saying.
  • Knowing the disease the person has, but also take the time to know and appreciate the unique person who has the disease. Acknowledge the person’s contributions, talents and gifts.
  • Focusing on the person’s strengths and abilities, not on his or her deficits.

We can also encourage families to stay connected to the church by:

  • Acknowledging the changing needs and abilities of their loved one and continuing to offer them a warm welcome and acceptance.
  • Providing transportation or respite care for the caregiver who may need a break from care giving.
  • Making home visits when the individual finds it too difficult to go out in the community. Maintaining your normal friendship which will give balance to the person’s life. Offer to pray or read scripture, play favorite music, enjoy nature, reminisce, look at old photos, or take a walk or drive.
  • Offering specific help. Ask for a “to-do” list or notice what help is needed and tell them you will do it.

Do try some of these suggestions so we can continue to be a welcoming and loving church community, especially to persons and families struggling with memory loss.