There are things that I wish that I would have understood better when my parents were suffering with dementia. Above all, I wish I could have understood that even though their personalities had changed and their memories seemed to be gone, the father and mother that I had once known were still there, though unable to communicate.
I am beginning to understand how important it is to talk to such people and demonstrate our love in other ways, even though we see no sign of understanding and response. And in some way that is unfathomable to us, God is still able to communicate with people with dementia.
Yesterday I attended a volunteer appreciation tea, put on by one of the hospitals in Saskatoon, for those who are involved in the Sunday morning chapel services. The conversation got around to how important it is to older people to hear the familiar old hymns of the faith. There were incidents mentioned of services in nursing homes, where someone would appear to be completely out of it during most of the service, then would ask for a familiar hymn and sing along with it.
A book from England, Could it be Dementia?*, recounts incidents of this type. A nursing home resident with Alzheimer’s disease sat through a worship service, mouth wide open and a vacant look on her face. When the minister read the text for his message her mouth closed, her eyes came alive and she drank in the whole message, then at the end the vacant look returned and her mouth dropped open. Another woman lit up during a familiar hymn and sang along with the chorus after each verse. Later she had no recollection of the hymn. A man who was barely able to communicate a word or two sat through a mission report with no sign of comprehension, but when the meeting was opened for prayer he prayed a meaningful and moving prayer which showed he had been taking it all in.
Incidents such as these may be relatively rare, but they give us a glimpse into the reality that even though the light may be off, someone is still there. The brain is a physical organ and when it no longer functions as it once did the person seems to be slipping away from us. Yet the soul, the real person, is not affected by physical degeneration. These people need someone to care for them physically, but we should remember that their soul still needs feeding and caring for too.
*Could it be Dementia, Losing your mind doesn’t mean losing your soul © 2008 Louise Morse and Roger Hitchings. Published by Monarch Books, Oxford UK