Rev Vicci Davidson chaired a CTaH forum addressed by Dr Trevor Adams at All Saints' Church, The Avenue, TW12 3RS, at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 22 September. After an opening prayer, John Latham of the URC described his church's Place to Go project about which CTaH had been asked to write a letter of support; there was no dissent. Paul Danon, assistant secretary, referred forum-members to the CTaH website for meeting-minutes, and mentioned the various issues which ministers' meetings had been discussing.
The notice of meeting had included the following text about the speaker: "Trevor Adams PhD is developing Dementia Friendly Churches with Livability, UK's largest Christian disability charity. Trevor has worked in dementia care for over 30 years. He has published extensively on dementia care nursing and has spoken widely internationally at Universities and conferences. His present work helps churches seeking to welcome and include people with dementia in churches and also support churches link with other local organisations contributing to the creation of a dementia friendly community. Trevor's session is designed for lay and clergy from all denominations and traditions."
Dr Adams had trained and practised as a nurse, and his mother had had dementia. Seminal work on dementia has been published by the late Professor Thomas Kitwood (1937-1998) of Bradford University. Dementia included Alzheimer's, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia. Alzheimer's progresses slowly while vascular dementia comes on in abrupt steps and involves the failure of blood-supply. Lewy body dementia has symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, including hallucinations; fronto-temporal dementia can develop in middle age and affects mood and behaviour. When dementia affects short-term memory, sufferers can be haunted by old memories, reliving them as if they were current. Government had only started to pay attention to dementia some 10 years ago. The big society's dementia strategy encouraged public places such as banks, gyms and libraries to be usable by sufferers.
At least some people with dementia can understand what is being said to them. It was wrong to objectify or disempower them; insensitive people would talk across them or be patronising. People with dementia are, of course, made in the likeness of God like the rest of us. They needed warmth, respect and benign attention. They could be helped to say what they wanted to say, and benefited from a relaxed pace of conversation. People are not mere matter; not just bodies. Personhood is maintained through relationships and with God, who loves us all. Jesus reached out to the marginalised. A church without dementia sufferers was the poorer for their absence; their condition reminded all of us of our frailty and our dependence on God. Dementia-friendly churches were welcoming and inclusive. The seating was convenient and there were prominent signs for facilities such as lavatories. Trevor had trained the congregation at an Anglo-Catholic in Castleford, West Yorkshire.
After Dr Adams' talk, participants discussed whether their churches could become dementia-friendly and, if so, how they might do so. Sufferers could prefer quiet, intimate services to big, loud ones. The familiarity of well-known liturgy and music could reassure people with dementia; the projection of hymn-lyrics on to a screen was helpful. At one church, there was an informal rota for speaking an 87-year-old parishioner whose conversational topics were limited. It was noted that some medics were unhelpfully reluctant to tell patients about a diagnosis of dementia; this was unfair because people need to be able to prepare for the condition's onset.
The chairman expressed the meeting's appreciation for Dr Adams' talk and mentioned the 15 November AGM.