For many, the answer to this question about spiritual practice is YES! It does matter and you may be surprised by the response you get when you continue or re-introduce spiritual practice into your loved one’s routine.

As part of many individual’s early childhood memories, religious practices, songs, memorized prayers or scripture are often retained even as dementia progresses into its final stages. If you begin to recite a song or prayer which was committed to memory in the past, the individual with memory loss will often join in word for word in the recitation or singing. When you add the use of music to this already powerful rote memorization exercise, even those who rarely speak will often sing along to familiar songs, and many times those songs have a spiritual context which connects them to their faith background.

Cues received in the social context of settings such as a chapel, church, or similar place where religious symbols are present often trigger appropriate spiritual responses. When these cues resonate with the individual’s deeply held religious beliefs, they not only find peace and comfort from the surrounding, but they often “rise to the occasion” of the social interaction involved in a religious service in ways that they find difficult in other group settings.

There are many ways to be attentive to the spiritual needs of your loved one. If possible, continue to take them to their regular place of worship. The familiar setting will provide the prompts and cues mentioned above and the presence of people who have known and cared for them in their faith community is also likely to provide some positive social interaction. If your loved one becomes restless or their behavior is unpredictable, ask if there is a designated place for families who need an area where they can move around and make noise but still participate in the service.

If getting out to worship is too cumbersome or not possible for some other reason, do your best to create some of the elements of the spiritual practice at home. See if there are volunteers from your loved ones’ congregation who will make a home visit. Even if it is just you and your loved one, take time to find and play some common music from your faith background or create a small service of your own.

Spirituality is a very important part of who we are. The need to stay spiritually connected and to put our faith practices into action stays with us until the end of our lives. For many, it is a source of strength and hope. For a care giver, it may also be a great resource on a day when the questions are many and the answers are few.

Submitted by Janelle Johnson, Memory Care Specialist