Studying the Bible can be a source of strength and comfort at any age, including for people living with dementia. Sometimes, loved ones and caregivers can feel nervous or unsure about how to approach Bible study sessions with seniors experiencing dementia or memory loss.
Fortunately, a little planning and flexibility can create a meaningful session to help you connect with God and each other. Below, you can find simple and practical tips for studying the Bible with a loved one who has dementia.
Planning your session beforehand can help you feel confident, but it's essential to be flexible when you're studying the Bible with a person living with dementia. You may have a particular passage or point that you want to focus on, but the most important goal should be to connect with your loved one and help them experience God's love.
Therefore, don't feel that you have to stick rigidly to a study plan or get to the end of a particular passage. Be prepared to explore thoughts and feelings you hadn't expected if your loved one takes the conversation on a surprising tangent, but you can gently redirect the conversation if things go off course. If you both finish the session with a sense of comfort and well-being, your study has been a success — even if you didn't accomplish everything you set out to achieve.
Living with dementia can often be frightening and isolating, so a Bible study session is an excellent opportunity to explore the many comforting and hopeful messages contained in scripture. This doesn't mean that people with dementia can't tackle difficult themes. However, it's generally a good idea to avoid potentially frightening or confusing passages and focus on New Testament stories exploring God's love and forgiveness.
Alternatively, you could consider revisiting your loved one's favorite Bible passages or stories with which they have a long-term familiarity. Many people with dementia can recall memories from earlier life more easily than recent memories because older memories are more established. Therefore, your loved one may find it easier to explore and engage with stories they studied in childhood than to tackle unfamiliar sections.
It's important to validate your loved one's contributions to your Bible study session, even if what they say is incorrect or you don't quite understand what they mean.
According to Alzheimer's San Diego, correcting somebody living with dementia can cause distress because it draws attention to their memory loss. Instead, validate what your loved one is saying and express empathy if they share negative thoughts and emotions. You can also try linking their ideas to God's love and compassion. For example, if your loved one believes that their long-gone parent is still alive, don't correct them. Instead, you could try saying:
"That's great that you love your dad so much, and I'm sure he loves you too. God loves all of us, just like a father loves a child."
If your loved one responds in a way that makes no sense to you, still thank them for their thoughts. Even if the exchange is confusing for you, feeling heard and communicating with others can be comforting and reassuring for people living with dementia.
It's generally best to avoid explicitly focusing on memory when you're studying the Bible with someone with dementia. For example, beginning a question with "Can you remember...?" can be upsetting for someone with memory loss if they can't recall the answer. However, you can do some simple things to help stimulate earlier memories and make it easier for your loved one to connect with the text.
Music and images can help people with Alzheimer's and other conditions that cause memory loss access memories, and they can also make your study sessions more enriching. You could select a familiar hymn connected to the passage you're studying to play at the start of your session. Alternatively, you could consider creating art together based on Biblical themes or stories. Family photos can also be a helpful memory prompt if you're looking at topics like parenthood or marriage.
Don't forget to give your loved one time to think about the ideas and questions you're exploring. People living with dementia often need more time to digest information and questions before making a contribution to your discussion. Therefore, it's essential to be patient and wait longer for a response than you would with somebody without memory problems.
Studying the Bible with a loved one living with dementia can be a rewarding experience, but it can also throw up challenges and difficult feelings. Sometimes, you may not know the right thing to say or do to comfort your loved one and help them connect with God's word.
Talking to other Christian caregivers can be a great way to get help and fresh ideas when you're supporting someone with dementia to nurture their faith. The health care and pastoral team at Bethesda Gardens Loveland are always available to talk things through and suggest helpful ways to communicate and explore scripture with people living with memory loss.
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