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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Dawson Church offers worship service to dementia patients, caregiverscomment (0)

May 7, 2009

By Gary Hardin


Did you know that between 5 percent and 8 percent of people over 65 have some form of dementia?

Did you know that one of their greatest needs is spiritual?

As the disease advances, those with dementia — and their caregivers — often feel isolated and miss having a connection with a church family, explained Miller Piggott, executive director of Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama and education director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

To address the worship needs of individuals with moderate dementia and their caregivers, Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, in Birmingham Baptist Association recently launched a special worship service called Connection.

“We want to remove any barriers to worship that might be experienced by families of patients with dementia,” said Senior Pastor Gary Fenton, noting the church is seeking to faithfully apply James 1:27 through the service.

It is intended for those who can still get out of the house but have trouble sitting through a traditional church service or following the worship format.

Led by those trained to work with dementia patients, the service includes a Bible story, familiar hymns and prayer, as well as activities to promote cognitive thinking. Visuals are used during the worship time.

“When people with dementia hear a Scripture (that is) imbedded in their hearts and the music of familiar, old hymns, they respond,” said Debbie Moss, a registered nurse and Dawson Memorial Baptist’s minister of health and wellness.

Piggott noted, “Even when the patient gets home, he or she might not remember going to church but will have a lingering feeling of joy.”

While individuals with dementia attend the Connection service, their caregivers attend the 11 a.m. worship service in Dawson’s sanctuary.

Moss pointed out the convenience of the service, both for the patient and caregiver.

There’s valet parking, allowing attendees to get out of their car at a location close by the room where the service is held.

Each attendee is assigned a Dawson volunteer at check in, and a pager is given to his or her caregiver.

Mel York is one of those volunteers.

As an occupational and geriatric therapist who serves as director of South Highland Center, an adult day care in Birmingham, York felt a call from God to use his skills and experiences in this ministry.

“In Connection, I will be pairing volunteers with the dementia patients who come to worship. I also will coordinate the cognitive-thinking activities,” he said.

Moss noted that individuals with dementia might not worship as they once did.

“They may remember only a few words to a familiar hymn or part of a Bible story or whisper a simple prayer. But God is honored,” she said.

Families and caregivers interested in Connection must register by contacting Moss at 205-871-7324 or debbie.moss@dawsonchurch.org.

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