Just because an individual 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. There is no evidence that Alzheimer’s or dementia can destroy spirituality.
"If we don’t address the spirit, we are only addressing two-thirds of a person’s life," says the Rev. Donald Koepke, director of the Center for Spirituality and Aging in Anaheim, California.
For many people, spirituality is a means of hope, meaning and finding purpose in one's life.
In those affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, spiritual beliefs and religious practices can be ways to find peace, hope and reassurance amid a very fearful interior world for them. It can also help maintain the life patterns and structures of the affected individual, which is important.
Various research studies validate nurturing the affected person’s spirituality: Cognitive decline is slower for those with higher levels of spirituality and private religious practices, (Kaufman et al; 2007); personal spirituality correlates with quality of life in Alzheimer’s, (Katsuno, T.; 2003); levels of spirituality do not decrease in early stages of dementia, (Jolley, D., Benbow, S. M., Grizzell, M., Willmott, S., Bawn, S. and Kingston, P.; 2010).
Additionally, there are many excellent resources and books about the importance of spiritual care in ministering to those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The following are samples of a few good references:
“Spirituality and the Personhood in Dementia" — Author Albert Jewell gives an inter-disciplinary approach to spirituality and what he calls the “personhood in dementia care” in his edited book. The book's contributors provide both a theoretical structure and practical understanding of the essential role that spirituality plays in the well-being of individuals with dementia.
“Do This, Remembering Me: The Spiritual Care of Those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia” — Authored by Collette Bachand-Wood, this book stresses the importance and ongoing spiritual needs of spiritual care for the individuals with the disease, and includes a hands-on manual for caregivers, clergy and spiritual care providers.
“The Peace with Dementia Rosary” — Louisiana author and gerontologist Matthew Estrade’s new book draws upon the beauty and strength of praying the rosary, where knowledge, love and faith intersect. The book journeys the progression of the disease while offering education, intentions, guide to prayer and important lessons to improve the quality of life for those living with dementia and their caregivers.
With the rising statistics of Alzheimer’s, there is a greater need, awareness and education for spiritual care for those affected by the disease. Spiritual care in routine assessments for affected individuals could be offered, along with more educational opportunities about spirituality for health care professionals and more training about the disease for religious practitioners.