I have been searching, off and on, for some official insight into how faith impacts dementia – specifically, whether being a born-again Christian makes the plunge into deep forgetfulness an experience as peace-filled and perhaps even joyous as it does any other experience in life.
I believe that it does indeed. But my evidence is totally anecdotal, based on what I’ve seen as a nursing home volunteer over the last 13+ years.
So I’ve conducted lengthy searches here and there, now and then, on the internet. And to my amazement, have found virtually nothing on the subject.
We live in a nation where 10% of those over 65 will develop the form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s; if we live to 85, our chances of developing it are apparently 50/50. We also live in a nation where roughly 76% self-identify as Christian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Wouldn’t you think some clinician somewhere in these United States would be interested enough to investigate how our faith impacts something as devastating as slipping into dementia?
I looked again recently, starting out with www.scholar.google.com, where I do a lot of searching of medical-journal articles for my daily work. I found almost nothing there, medically speaking, which seems impossible; I must go back and try again using different search terms.
I did find lots of plain ol’ web listings purporting to address this issue – more than 5.7 million of them, with a simple search for combinations of words such as Alzheimer's, faith and truth.
There was a nicely written article headlined, “Yes, Faith Does Change the Alzheimer’s Journey.” It was written by a woman whose mother had Alzheimer’s. But she really didn’t address how it impacted her mother. She just said that she was on a personal pilgrimage of some sort, and then realized that this wasn’t about her, but about her mother, who was after all the one with the disease. So no insights there.
There was another article outlining the search for “dementia and a resurrection theology.” I think it was promoting the use of religious ritual to help the senile find themselves again. According to this article, such “very familiar practices” as communion “witness to the spiritual meaning of a person’s life.” Whatever that means. Is it ritual that gives our lives “spiritual meaning,” or reflects the “spiritual meaning” of our lives? A strange teaching.
The Alzheimer’s Association has posted dozens of links to pages entitled “Walking in Faith,” or some variation thereof. But they don’t seem to have anything to do with Christian faith; I’m not sure what the point is, except that the Association seems to be reaching out to churches for support.
I did find one intriguing report. Published in 2010, its abstract describes a very small study of just 64 Alzheimer’s patients, with two tests conducted 12 months apart. The researchers' conclusion:“Higher levels of religiosity in Alzheimer's dementia seem to correlate with a slower cognitive and behavioral decline, with a corresponding significant reduction of the caregiver's burden.”
Very interesting and worth noting. But still, eventually we all end up at the same place. What I want to know is if peace and joy prevail for Christians, even through the challenges suffered by those with Alzheimer’s.
Have any of you come across this sort of research, dear readers?
(originally posted 10/29/13)