When someone we love is struggling with the symptoms of Alzheimer's or a related dementia, we want the best care possible for them. And, according to research, that quality care should include a holistic approach- one that considers the needs of the body, mind and spirit.
Let's apply that holistic approach to activities for people with dementia. The need for meaningful activities has been well-documented in research, and there are many activities that engage the body and the mind. While there is strong evidence that people with dementia can benefit from familiar spiritual activities and traditions, there are few resources that outline how best to do that. There's no "one size fits all" approach here since your choices will highly depend on the background of your patients or loved one, but here are a few faith-based activities to consider.
Music can be very powerful for all of us, whether we have dementia or not. Many people have strong memories of songs they sang when they were younger, and when you're working with dementia, anything familiar is a blessing to people.
Prayer and Meditation
Offer to spend time together in prayer. I know many people with Alzheimer's disease who are calmed, encouraged and uplifted by prayer. This can be done in a group of several people or with just one person. In a world of confusion, memory loss, or difficulty finding the exact words, the practice of prayer can transcend some of those cognitive losses.
Read Familiar Passages Together
Many faiths have a holy book such as the Bible. Take time to read some of those passages together.
Reciting Favorite Verses or Prayers
Some people with dementia have certain verses and prayers they've committed to memory throughout their life. Choose a passage that may have been memorized when they were younger and try encouraging them as a group to recite it together. You may be surprised at the level of participation.
Observe Traditions and Rituals
If your background has regular, sacred events such as communion, see if you can make arrangements to have that offered in your home or the facility where your patients or loved ones live.
Celebrate Holy Times
Throughout the calendar, there are several holy celebrations and events for the different faiths. If possible, involved your loved one in commemorating those special times.
Some people with dementia might enjoy the familiar routine of a religious service. For others, the stimulation and larger group of people might be anxiety-provoking, so be sure to observe and respond to your loved one's reaction.
The tactile experience of holding something meaningful in your hands can be powerful. For example, for a person whose background is Catholic, rosary beads might be comforting to them. A word of caution here; depending on which stage the person with dementia is in, it's possible that those beads could be a choking hazard, so be sure to provide adequate supervision.
Have Other Ideas?
The Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. 2008;40(2):96-102. Procedural Memory and Emotional Attachment in Alzheimer Disease: Implications for Meaningful and Engaging Activities. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/574690_3
Social Care Institute for Excellence. Dementia Gateway: Getting to know the person with dementia. Exploring spiritual needs. Accessed November 29, 2012. http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/dementia/know/spiritual.asp