Neglecting your faith after a dementia diagnosis - what can you do?

Whether you’ve always been a religious person, or your beliefs have a more spiritual focus, we find out how faith can provide support to someone with dementia

To understand why someone might start to neglect their faith, you need to really step into their shoes and look at things from their point of view.

Could this be you (or someone you know)?

- You feel unsure about going to church, mosque or temple because you can’t remember the protocols, traditions and things you’re supposed to say. You get lost during services.
- You’ve recently moved into a care home that’s no longer near your church and you’re lacking the confidence to start afresh in a new parish or area.
- You’re questioning your faith and asking yourself, ‘How could a seemingly benevolent God lump me with such a cruel disease?’

It’s quite common for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia to start neglecting their faith and stop going to their church, temple or mosque, but encouraging them to rediscover it can provide a source of comfort, stimulation and reminiscence.

The benefits of faith

It can be multi-sensory
It often involves sights, sounds, smell and touch which are instantly familiar and calming. For example, taking communion involves touch, sight and taste and could trigger safe, comforting feelings.

It triggers memory
Singing of hymns or incantations can be especially beneficial as they stir up memories from long ago. Perhaps it was a reading or prayer that was sung or read on their wedding day.

It is sociable
Faith and religion can be a great way of meeting other people. Many religious communities have a strong social side, and it’s a good way to get involved. Often they’re a caring and supportive community that will support you both in tough times.

It can provide solace
However you feel about your diagnosis, finding your faith can provide a way of looking at the world in a different way, it encourages mindfulness and a peaceful, benevolent outlook.

Routine and reason to get out
Religion can provide a meaningful activity to encourage someone to get out of the house.

Finding faith again

In order to help someone, you need to understand their longer life story and the connection they had with religion.

Ask yourself:

Were they a regular church goer or preferred occasional services at particular times of the year such as Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Passover or Diwali.

Did they enjoy helping out behind the scenes, setting up after-service refreshments or arranging flowers?

Depending on their dementia and how capable they are, they may still be able to take part in many of these activities, and this should be encouraged.

And most importantly, you need to ensure that they have access to the right kind of service or style of religion that they were used to. Some love lots of singing, clapping and dancing, while others will prefer quiet meditation and may be put off by lots of noise.

Whichever methods you use to reach them, they should match the person’s faith tradition and tap into those old memories which can be so comforting.