The following is an article from the Church of Scotland Magazine Life and Work.
About 88,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with dementia, and there can be hardly any church in the country that is untouched by it.
Clincarthill Parish Church, in south Glasgow close to Hampden Park, is typical; with a number of older members living with dementia and a number of others who are caring for relatives with the condition.
At the behest of one elder in particular, Clincarthill decided to try to equip itself to better support people with dementia. Through co-operation with the local NHS and Alzheimers Scotland, it is now the first Dementia Friendly Church in the country.
The minister of Clincarthill, the Rev Mike Gargrave, said: “We realised that we knew very little about dementia and so were not well equipped to support sufferers or their families through this illness. One of our elders, Doreen Watson, had cared for her mother through dementia and she felt strongly that our church should be better equipped to support those affected by this condition. As Doreen has a background is social care, she contacted Alzheimers Scotland who put her in contact with Sandra Shafii, who is an AHP Consultant in Dementia working for NHS Lanarkshire. Sandra met with Doreen and I, and other members of our congregation with first hand experience of dementia, last summer, and we discussed becoming a Dementia Friendly Church. To gain this accreditation, we formed an action plan which was accepted by Alzheimers Scotland.”
The plan involved running dementia awareness sessions (four so far) for the congregation and local community, and engaging in fundraising for Alzheimers Scotland. The owners of Hampden Stadium, which is nearby, donated Robbie Williams concert tickets to be given away as a quiz prize.
The church youth organisations have also been involved, making reminiscing books and boxes and music playlists, which will be used to help people with dementia living in local care homes.
The church is also in the process of setting up a fully-trained support group of people who have had experience of caring for people with dementia, who will offer support to other people and families affected by it.
Mike said: “In our research at the beginning of this initiative, we were told that one of the most difficult aspects of the onset of dementia was people understanding what they were going through, either as sufferers or as carers and our support group will help people through this difficult time.”
The church was presented with its accreditation at its open day in September last year.
Dementia is an umbrella term for about a hundred different diseases of the brain, which can result in memory loss, difficulties with communication, confusion, vision and hearing problems and unusual behaviour.
In an article written for the Clincarthill parish magazine, dementia consultant Sandra Shafii explained that the key to helping someone with dementia is communication: “Try to understand how they might be feeling. They might be feeling a bit embarrassed, frustrated, worried or upset. Try to reassure and stay calm and again don’t rush the person. Try and see the world as they might see it. If they appear to be in difficulty, try asking simple straightforward questions that ask for simple answers such as ‘Is there someone you would like me to call?’ or ‘Are you looking for the toilet? Make eye contact. Make sure the person can see your face clearly. Also speak clearly and say exactly what you mean. Get one idea over at a time and give the person time to respond. Don’t stand too close or stand over the person when you are talking to them. Remember they may have problems in responding to you in words but they will be able to read your expression and body language.”
Alzheimers Scotland can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org, or the freephone 24 hour helpline 0808 808 3000