How Can The Church Be Ready for the Tidal Wave of Dementia?

The Alzheimer’s Association (http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2012.pdf) reports “that an estimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. This figure includes 5.2 million people age 65 and older and 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. 

  1.  One in eight people age 65 and older (13 percent) has Alzheimer’s disease.Nearly half of people age 85 and older (45 percent) have Alzheimer’s disease.
  2.  Of those with Alzheimer’s disease, an estimated 4 percent are under age 65, 6 percent are 65 to 74,  44 percent are 75 to 84, and 46 percent are 85 or older.”

Other estimates project that by 2050 the disease could increase to 15 million people as the boomers age.  Currently over 15 million people provide unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. 

In the book The 36-Hour Day : A Family Guide to Caring for Persons With Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life by Nancy L. Mace and  Peter V. Rabins, one gets a picture of what it is like to be a caregiver for someone with a dementia related illness.  The title is ascribed to help the reader understand that every day for the home caregiver feels like a 36 hour day.  The information in this book also helps explain why many times the caregiver dies before the one with the disease.  Caregivers are exhausted. 

What can congregations do? 

  1. Prepare church professionals who understand the dynamics of aging.
  2. Prepare church professionals who understand dementia related diseases.
  3. Equip laity to provide support to those with dementia related disease.
  4. Provide an adult daycare program that can provide a place of enrichment for the one with the disease and a time of rest for the caregiver.
  5. Provide volunteers to go to the homes of those with dementia related diseases to stay with the one with the disease so that the caregiver can take a break.                

The person with a dementia related illness is still who they have been created to be and are a part of the Body of Christ.  The church (and especially an aging church) is called to support those in need.  We hear the call of Matthew 25: 39-40, “And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The Church is called to service, a service of love, to those who are sick and lonely and in need of support.  A great opportunity is being placed before the Church to be that service church.  If you want to discuss  how to respond to dementia related illness, Pivot Point Ministries is available.

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