1. Schmidt, Karen

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Deena*, a faith community nurse, first learned about Roger* from her church's pastoral staff. Roger's diagnosis of early-onset dementia had stunned his wife and children. How could the church congregation support this family? Through denominational contacts, Deena found a starting point: facilitating steps to support this family via the framework of a dementia-friendly church.

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Dementia-friendly faith communities aim to provide spiritual connection and engagement for people living with dementia, along with supporting their families and caregivers. These churches become welcoming havens to families and individuals with dementia through education, physical adjustments, support groups, and adapted worship.


At United Church of Christ in Boxborough, Massachusetts, the Called to Care ministry team led this initiative, providing workshops for their congregants and the community at large, reading about dementia, sharing resources, and visiting congregants at home. Pastor Cindy Worthington-Berry observed that their church has a large population of older people, so dementia is an increasingly common diagnosis. Choosing to become a dementia-friendly faith community (DFFC) was an easy decision. "A DFFC recognizes that people with dementia are spiritual beings," she explained, "beloved by God, and gifts to the congregation as a whole. People with dementia benefit from being part of a faith community and surrounded by God's love," said Pastor Worthington-Berry.


Simpler Worship Services

The church in Boxborough holds a dementia-friendly service quarterly where the worship is simple and all are welcome. The first verses of familiar hymns are sung and the pastor reads Scripture and offers a short reflection. Then those in attendance can share their prayer concerns and join in saying the Lord's Prayer. These shorter, simple worship gatherings are held during the week and about one-third of the participants have experienced dementia symptoms. "Those present participate at different levels, but it is amazing to see people who don't remember their children suddenly join in on Psalm 23 or Amazing Grace," Pastor Worthington-Berry said.


One member of the ministry team shared, "Dementia has been part of life's journey for family and church members near and dear. It has invited presence, patience, vigilance, great love and imagination. Small loving acts matter."


Paying Attention to the Need

Debbie Ringen, MSN, PHN, RN-BC, is a faith community nurse (FCN) and the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ. She said the dementia topic comes up at faith community nursing and health ministry conferences. Although Ringen hasn't encountered other designated dementia-friendly churches in her conference, she knows of one faith community that has produced an educational series to support people with dementia. "The majority of faith communities in any tradition are definitely experiencing more elderly members-some in a high proportion-so we need to pay attention," Ringen said.


"This kind of ministry allows members who may have felt they aren't welcome to attend worship, be able to attend. If these members still feel they're not able to attend, FCNs help them maintain connection with the faith community," Ringen explained. She believes this involvement should become more frequent, whether churches are focusing on being dementia-friendly or age-friendly communities; both encompass similar issues.


FCNs as Resource Specialists

Ringen sought out and provided resources (see Box) for the Boxborough church, and advises other faith communities considering the dementia-friendly model to start by contacting the Alzheimer's Association. One church she knows of wrote and received a grant to fund dementia care workshops for caregivers, one-to-one caregiver sessions, and a support group with a facilitator.


Pastor Worthington-Berry believes that the designation as a dementia-friendly church serves as a consistent reminder of God's call to care for our neighbor, especially our neighbors who are caregivers or living with dementia. And, as is so often the case, the entire community benefits.



Alzheimer's Association


Calvin Institute of Christian Worship


Becoming a WISE Congregation Toolkit


Developing a Dementia-Friendly Church


Faith United Against Alzheimer's


Memory Cafe