Working with Those Who Struggle with Dementia

I have accepted a position working with people in various stages of dementia. As some of you may know, there are four major types of dementia. I am working with people who are at various stages of all four types. My position includes being a chaplain, spiritual director, and life enrichment assistant to these individuals.

I accepted this position so I could continue my work as a spiritual director (who does not charge those whom I guide but do my work on the basis of gifts, and yes, I pay taxes on the gifts) and to model empathy and compassion to individuals who face a difficult if not frightening future.

This kind of work requires patience, a deep love of people, and the willingness to understand that success may only be finding you can help some of these souls smile. I have finished my first week and can honestly say this may be the most rewarding work I have been involved in since I was a chaplain at a children’s hospital (certainly more satisfying than working with church members who have no interest in spiritual matters other than telling a pastor how to do his job).

I knew going in that communicating with the residents of this facility would be a challenge. I have had to reintroduce myself to some of the individuals every day, if not every hour. I have found many of these people have lost hope. Some are very lonely and scared. Some cannot communicate other than through guttural sounds. Some cannot put words together that make any sense. Most feel as if their lives have no meaning and they have lost their freedom. Yet, when I ask them to join me in the Our Father, I am amazed at how many can say the words along with me. When I sing Jesus loves Me, many of them join in. And, to my great joy and surprise, as I seek to teach them the Taizé song, Jesus Remember Me, many have not only learned the song but sing it themselves during the day.

Yes, I do believe I am going to enjoy my involvement in this work.