Back in 2015 I walked into the Northaven Hostel lounge room. Joyce and Judy were deep in conversation. They turned to me and said: “Ask Frank. He’ll know”. A 20-minute discussion ensued. Basically they were asking one question: “Do they (some of their fellow residents) know that they have dementia?” A month later I gave a talk about dementia. I expected a handful of residents, but 42 of the 48 Hostel residents came!
Joyce and Judy sowed the seed of a plant that is now called Discussing Dementia. Over the past three years I have led Discussing Dementia in different Uniting and Anglican Churches in NSW, attended by well over 500 people. Why the Church setting? Because our Churches are full of ageing folk who need to know the difference between normal ageing and dementia.
They need to be reminded that God is always with them:
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (disease, disability, decline, dementia) I will not fear, for you [God] are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
They need to know that they are people made in the image of God, and that ageing and dementia can never take away their personhood.
They need to learn about dementia friendly worship, and how to visit their friends who are now living with dementia, often in residential aged care.
They need to be equipped to care for the carers of those living with dementia, and to run the race with them – a race that is sadly a long marathon.
They need reminding that in any and every encounter their spirit is talking with someone else’s spirit, all aided by God’s Holy Spirit: for “spirit talks to spirit”.