Dementia is a collective term which describes various symptoms of decline in the brain. These can include forgetfulness, delusions and distressing changes in behaviour and personality. Vascular disease and Alzheimer’s Disease are the two most common causes. Others include Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and serious head injuries. People with dementia can experience problems in understanding, co-ordination or speech. Those who are close to them observe aggression, depression and a lack of inhibition. The symptoms are distressing for the sufferer and painful for their family and friends to see.
Christians believe that illness or affliction does not take away a person’s inherent value as a human being.
Yet in spite of all this, someone with dementia is still open to emotional and spiritual experiences. Sometimes we can see this happening when someone with profound dementia responds to familiar music. Christians believe that illness or affliction does not take away a person’s inherent value as a human being. Everyone is unique. The Bible says people are unique: made in the image of God and deeply loved by him. And so every person deserves to be treated with absolute respect and dignity whatever their age and state of health. The Bible book, Leviticus, taught its readers to ‘rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.’
In his time of teaching and performing miraculous healing, Jesus Christ demonstrated how to love and respect all people. That included the elderly, children, the sick, people who were guilty of doing wrong and all those who were oppressed and ignored. Christianity teaches that followers of Jesus are to do as he did and show the same love and willingness to serve those who need help such as those with dementia. Many Christians feel called into the caring professions so that they can use their skills and talents to do this.
‘Even to your old age and grey hairs, I(God) am he… who will sustain you, I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you…’.
Caring for people with dementia can be exhausting and distressing and it gets harder as the person declines. There can be frustration, embarrassment and guilt about the way the person is behaving. In the vast majority of cases it becomes impossible to care for someone with dementia without specialist help. It may also become essential for the person to be moved into a nursing home.
Every person experiences some level of physical decline as they get older. It is part of life. But the Bible has an assurance that no matter how old and infirm a person becomes, God will be there for them: the Bible book Isaiah says, ‘Even to your old age and grey hairs, I(God) am he… who will sustain you, I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you…’. Christians believe that the Spirit of God never leaves those who love and trust him, even if they become unable to express that in words. Christianity teaches that people will decline and eventually die but, through belief in Jesus Christ, it is possible to have eternal life and an eternal close relationship with God.