The Rev. Donald Koepke, director of the Center for Spirituality and Aging says, "If we don’t address the spirit, we are only addressing two-thirds of a person’s life."
Just because someone has Alzheimer's or dementia does not mean his or her spirituality is lost. On the contrary, the spirituality of the person is still carried beyond levels of communication that others may not observe or understand.
Spirituality is a natural part of human existence. For most people, spirituality is a means of hope, meaning and finding life's purpose. Our spirituality can be expressed in a number of ways such as religious practices and/or rituals or a belief in God or a higher being. In that vein, your dad probably still has a connection to the church you both attend. However, external factors, such as the music or a large number of people praying or singing loudly, could make him fidgety or prone to talking above his usual decibel.
For someone with Alzheimer's, it's important to maintain his or her life's patterns and structures, such as going to church. Attendance at a place of worship was probably a life-honored practice of your dad and family. So, for as long as he is able, it would benefit him greatly to continue this tradition, especially at Christmas. Not only is he comfortable in this familiar environment, but the services can offer him a sense of solace, a way for him to cope with his confusion and the disease progression. He can also benefit from the socialization with regular churchgoers, gaining greater self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, hearing and singing the familiar Christmas songs during the services might put him at ease and lift his spirits.
Most churches have cry rooms for small children, and this might be a viable option if your dad’s fidgeting and loud talking is disturbing others. You also may want to sit in the back of the church so you can quietly walk/pace with him if he gets too anxious. Inform ushers and clergy of your dad's condition, too. They can be a means of support while your dad attends services.
When the time comes and he can no longer attend services, you can still set aside things to do at home to enhance his spirituality. You can read inspirational books to him, pray with him, spend quiet time in a garden and, especially, sing or listen to his favorite hymns. These activities not only give him dignity and respect, but can also ease depression and anxiety that so often accompanies Alzheimer's disease.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.