Pastoral Care and Advanced Dementia

***update 5/7/20: I was recently forwarded an article noting how certain natural remedies, including tumeric, may have positive benefits for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. If you’re interested you can find it here. This is not an endorsement, just a passing along of information some may find beneficial.***

When I first started chaplaincy, I would walk out the door with bible in hand and a planned reading for the day for all my patients.

That lasted about two days.

The reason was not that I gave up or got lazy, but rather that I quickly found that the majority of the patients I saw didn’t benefit from it because they simply couldn’t understand what I was doing due to advanced dementia of some kind. Even if end-stage dementia was not their primary diagnosis, I’d say at least 2/3rds of the people I saw suffered from this. Many could communicate and talk with me, but lived in a world of their own. They would often misinterpret their environment, and in many cases couldn’t remember what I had just said to them a few minutes ago. Some were truly end stage, confined to a chair or to bed, nonverbal or nonsensical, and having no apparent understanding of what was going on around them. Organically, their brains were slowly dying, leaving them trapped in a world that I didn’t know how to enter.

That’s what makes dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease so tragic. A person can otherwise be relatively healthy, but as their brain deteriorates it can seem as if they are lost to us already. Continue reading