• Saturday study day 19 May 2017 | View comments

  • 15th May 2017 | By ​David Jolley

    I have pretty sternly kept weekends for family through the years, trying to keep some sort of balance in life. Being retired, of course, I can and do, have more time around during the ‘working’ week of Monday to Friday.

    So, this Saturday was given over to a study day at Luther King House in Manchester. Luther King House is an educational centre and an oasis of peace, green and trees in Brighton Grove tucked away just north of Manchester Grammar School and East of the Wilmslow Road.

    This day was ‘Dementia Friendly Church’. It was not an Alzheimer’s Society event, though the ‘Dementia Friendly’ tag is almost their copyright. This was people of faith coming together to share ideas about improving understanding of dementia amongst memberships and congregations and using the power and resources of churches for the benefit of people with dementia and their families and carers.

    Gaynor Hammond is a charismatic Baptist Minister, one time nurse, and great enthusiast and champion for people with dementia and their families. http://fiep.org.uk/2015/10/09/gaynor-hammond/

    She led sessions on the characteristics and nature of dementia, spoke about approaches to make communication with people who have dementia less difficult, and we used her workshop to look at planning dementia friendly services.

    The group included people from several denominations and from Wales and the South as well as Greater Manchester and the North. Predominantly women, there a reasonable presence of men amongst the 20 plus who were assembled. There were several ministers, lay preachers and everyone was volunteering and trying to provide help for people with dementia – mainly older people of course, but people with early Onset Dementia were mentioned by friends from the Midlands. Our age span I would hazard as 30s into the 70s.

    Many shared their personal stories of struggling within family with the challenges from parents or relatives of the same age, friends or parishioners, who have become changed by dementia or a related condition. This was impressive and said that this is something very real and not an easy fix. No room here for glib answers to everything you might meet.

    Sally Ferris led the workshop on setting up a dementia friendly group,  www.togetherdementiasupport.org/author/sallyf/. The structure of the day meant I was not able to attend but the murmurs were that this was helpful.

    Margaret Turner led the workshop on supporting carers of people with dementia. There is recognition that stress on carers is great, but they often feel that no one sees their difficulties, being so taken up with the changes on the individual with dementia. She helped us look at the statistics and economics, but also asked how we can be more helpful and supportive.

    It is wonderful to find that churches and church people are taking these matters seriously and taking a positive approach rather than ‘head in the sand’.

    All denominations have a membership skewed to older people and so include many with dementia or caring for someone with dementia. This may not be their only difficulty, multiple pathology and social and economic challenges are almost the rule. The spiritual dimension of being older and encountering changes to what you can do and the limitations which these bring, the need for the grace to accept help from others, cries out to be recognised and needs careful, sympathetic but realistic grappling.

    I hope we can bring these lessons back for consideration in our churches – opening the doors for frank discussion of needs within the membership – and prospects for engaging with others who might benefit from joining us.

    Everyone present has already begun some practical work aiming to help people with dementia. This is all to be affirmed, retained and worked on. We will learn from each other. Living with dementia is the norm for us. This is OK and will be the better and less dangerous as we accept it.

    Within our own Circuit of four Methodist Churches we are blessed with a comprehensive pastoral care system and it is beyond this that we will continue our monthly Dementia Conversations – recently summarised in the newsletter of Christians on Ageing – number 49 May 2017. In addition, our Timperley Church has begun a weekly drop in and there are other initiatives under consideration.

    From this Saturday’s work, I hope we will take steps to include consideration of people with dementia in issues of design and layout of facilities, the way we conduct ourselves with others, and look to making all services easy for people with dementia. The idea of making occasional services especially suitable for people with dementia feels to be something to explore. In our workshop, you could feel the dawning of understanding and the light of surprise that these could become red-letter days for the calendar.

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