Godly Play and Memories
My mother has Alzheimer's. We recently moved her to a nursing home where she could receive the 24-hour-a-day care she needed in order to be safe. So I was particularly interested in a workshop led by The Rev. Lois Howard, Deacon at a recent Christian Education Day in Lexington, Kentucky. Lois has a ministry of presence and relationship with folks who have dementia. And she brings Godly Play to them.
A certified Godly Play trainer, Lois is a remarkable woman with insight and passion for the Story - God's Story and the stories of those who have lost their recent memories. She speaks of sitting alongside them, holding their hands, and offering a hug or two. Weekly she brings Godly Play to nursing homes to awaken their "religious" memories.
Religious rituals seem to be embedded deeply in the brain. Lois refers to these as "ritual memories." They include Bible stories, scripture verses, songs and hymns learned as children. Using the figures from Godly Play seem to trigger memories from these people and they love to hold them and touch the multi-sensory materials.
Principles for Ministry to People with Dementia
People with dementia, even advanced dementia, still possess six things (regardless of cognition):
- A name they prefer
- A spirit
- A life story
- The present moment
Alzheimer's Disease was first described by German physician Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Every 71 seconds someone develops Alzheimer's; there are currently 5.2 million people living with some form of Alzheimer's in the United States. And the number is growing, especially as Baby Boomers age.
My mother sings hymns from time to time, as well as some golden oldies such as "I love you truly" and "Ain't She Sweet." I think I'll bring the Parable of the Good Shepherd with me on an upcoming visit. Perhaps she and her new friends at the nursing home will enjoy remembering a story of God's love.
Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.