Caring for the Spirit of Persons Living with Dementia
© Dominik Lange
Caring for a person living with dementia does not mean focusing on its practical aspects such as maintaining his physical health, ensuring safety, or checking if he eats properly. Caretakers should not overlook the spiritual aspect, which helps a lot in improving the patient’s ability to cope with his health condition and his quality of life.
You might also think that since they have communication problems due to severe loss of memory, the spiritual need does not matter anymore. Well, this is indeed a wrong idea. A person’s spiritual well-being brings profound effects physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The Significant Meaning of Spiritual Well-Being
Most people think about religion, when hearing about spiritual things. But, let us not forget that even individuals who do not have religious faith have their own systems of belief that give purpose and meaning to their lives.
These belief systems are expressed by means of culture, nature, creativity, family and relations. They have emotional connections in them and their significance becomes stronger as people age. Others turn to their beliefs and values when they face physical frailty and difficulties in life. This is the time when they need to get back to their senses, prepare for the future, and be hopeful.
When to Provide Spiritual Support
Here are the most obvious signs or situations to observe to determine if a patient, friend or parent is in need of spiritual support.
- Shows feeling of anger and bitterness by often uttering about being useless, receiving unfair treatment or that he does not deserve a thing;
- Feelings of abandonment or talking about feeling alone or lost;
- Experiencing guilt because he has wasted his life or has been wicked;
- Feeling that nobody understands or cares for him;
- Perceiving that life is pointless and hopeless and just wants to give up. The common statements coming out from the mouth is ‘better to die’ or ‘what’s the point’;
- Grieving for loss of the closest person;
- Being agitated, confused or weepy due to fears;
- Inability to verbalize feelings and not being able to understand what’s going on.
How To Provide Spiritual Support
Something can be called spiritual when it affects a person’s internal life experience and when it is associated with a sense of identity. Some situations include being valued, appreciated and respected, feeling understood and recognized, or receiving unconditional love.
It is also important that caretakers of people with dementia should continue helping them support their cultural behaviors or religious beliefs. These older adults should be a part of the community and retain their personal dignity. Do not forget to help them deal with loss of a friend, good health, a relative or independence. Lastly, they need to find hope, purpose and meaning no matter how they struggle with their health condition.
There are more specific ways to help persons living with dementia retain their spiritual connections to different aspects. These are the following:
Connections with Family, Friends and the Community
Let the patients retain their feelings of connection with the people who share similar value, tradition and belief. Jane Byrne, Project manager at a nursing home in Kildare notes that, “Distance should not be a hindrance to this goal. Use social media and other platforms such as video calls or sending photographs online. Let them speak to the telephone if possible especially on the important occasions in their lives like birthdays, grandchildren graduations, Christmas, or anniversaries.”
If they love arts, let them spend a few hours on doing what they love – embroidery, painting, dancing, etc. They can decorate cakes, listen to their favorite songs, taking pictures or even write poems. These creative expressions give them the opportunity to reflect on their lives.
Some people express their spiritual habits through nature. They stay outdoors, listen to birds chirping, seeing animals, or planting flowers and trees. They may just sit or walk in the garden or look at the stars or the sunset. People with dementia might want to share about her youth stories and how they spend much of their lives with nature.
Thoughts to Ponder
Providing care for the spirit of a person living with dementia varies from one person to another. This means that you need to know them well to figure out how you can be of help. You should show compassion and confidence in meeting and assessing the person’s spiritual needs.