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Study puts spotlight on dementia


A new study conducted across Australia and the United Kingdom recommends that Theological colleges and seminaries need to integrate dementia education into their programs to prepare clergy to better support people living with dementia and their carers in churches.

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The research, ‘Educating for Inclusive, Caring Communities’ was released by the University of Aberdeen and supported by health and aged care providers HammondCare. It found that existing theological training on dementia in a range of Christian denominations “varies widely” and “often lacks depth or practical application”.

Dementia touches the lives of many across the nation, the clergy and the church. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare forecasts the number of people living with dementia is expected to grow from the present 401,300 to more than 928,000 by 2050. The researchers said consideration of the implications of dementia for religious communities is important with growing incidence especially concentrated in those churches with ageing congregations.

The study was based on one-on-one interviews with Christian educators representing 11 denominations in Australia and seven in the UK. There were also interviews with 24 people living with dementia and/or their carers.

Participants suggested of practical steps to help churches become more dementia friendly by offering level access, keeping buildings warm, installing hearing loops, ensuring clear signposting, and providing transport.

Other suggestions were about using older hymns, shortening, and simplifying sermons by preaching around one main point and keeping Bible readings brief.

It was evident from responses that Holy Communion was a key ritual to people living with dementia as it signalled involvement with the church community.

They recommend theological education institutions should integrate dementia education into their curricula for ministerial training and formation.

They also suggest implementing a multi-faceted approach to training, combining modular teaching, placements, reflection, and extracurricular learning.

The importance of making Holy Communion a key ritual for those living with dementia was also a focus. Several participants raised concerns about how some churches handle disruptions caused by someone with dementia.

One participant who was recently diagnosed with dementia, said most churches are inclusive but an encounter at one particular church made her feel excluded.

“When they found out I have dementia, they said, ‘Well we don’t want you coming here then’,” the participant said.

Participants said visits to homes or places of residence were an important dementia ministry, but some thought the ministry was difficult. The researchers noted the reluctance was due to a “perception that the person living with dementia was unable to benefit from such visits.”

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