Dementia-Friendly Faith Organizations


Broadly speaking, faith-based organizations are nonprofit groups that follow religious principles. The members of these organizations share common values and meet for performing religious activities such as prayers. Churches, temples, meditation centers are some examples of faith-based organizations. Some faith based organizations, however, focus on secular activities such as cultural activities, volunteer work, reading groups rather than religious prayers.

Many people with dementia like to attend meetings at their place of worship but face some challenges. Persons with dementia feel embarrassed when they forget names of people attending church. Some people with dementia find it hard to follow religious lectures or other verbal information shared during the prayer meeting. People living with dementia may feel confused when new songs, prayers, or hymns are introduced in religious services. In spite of these challenges, many persons with dementia attend church regularly to advance in their spiritual practice.


Churches, temples, meditation centers, and other places of worship are becoming aware of the challenges and are actively engaging programs for persons with dementia. A dementia-friendly service is typically conducted in traditional or well-known church buildings. If the group chooses to do cultural activities or volunteer work, they are done in places known for a long time such as schools or libraries. Persons with dementia find these locations easy to access and thereby more likely to attend the service. In a dementia friendly service, hallways, exits, bathrooms, and rooms are clearly labeled making it easy for persons with dementia to navigate the facility.


In general, dementia friendly religious services are short and structured in order to hold the attention of persons with dementia. Persons with dementia report feeling engaged in a 30-minute long service but lose focus during longer services. A service has a defined start activity and ends with a prayer. Instead of bombarding new or latest information, the religious sermon is focused on known materials.     


Often churches use multi-sensory worship practice instead of only verbal service. For example, people with dementia sometimes prefer to hold a candle or flowers or incense sticks or religious objects such as crosses, rosary. Some caregivers encourage people with dementia to write their own prayers. This practice gives them an opportunity connect with their feelings and express thoughts. Some churches provide written copies of prayers for persons with dementia.


In a dementia-friendly church, the staff and volunteers are aware of challenges faced by persons with dementia. If a person living with dementia forgets the name, the volunteer gently reintroduces herself. The volunteers are trained to communicate clearly, patiently, and by focusing on the listener. The staff and volunteers help persons with dementia find seating upon arrival or their rides after the service.    


Maintaining a spiritual practice helps to maintain emotional health and hence, it is crucial that persons with dementia continue their religious practice as usual. Often caregivers fear their loved one with dementia will be at risk if out of the home. At AlzCare Labs, we develop products that keep persons with dementia safe even when out of their homes.


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