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Thinking of You: A resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia

Thinking of You: A resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia

Sally Richards* reviews a new book on dementia from BRF.

Be not afraid! This exquisite book, Thinking of You: A resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia , is a profound exploration of a strange land that will be accessible and encouraging to a wide readership. Joanna Collicutt’s expertise in clinical neuropsychology and as priest, trainer and pastoral adviser ensures that this is essentially a practical resource. It has four parts which can be dipped into according to interest and need. As a whole they also present a sustained and compelling case for transformation in the attitudes and practices of Christians, and society in general, towards people affected by dementia. Dementia affects not only the person with dementia but also those who care for him or her, whether waged or unwaged, and their families, friends and communities.
“…a sustained and compelling case for transformation in the attitudes and practices of Christians, and society in general, towards people affected by dementia.”
Part One explores dementia from three perspectives: medical; biological and social. Biological information about brain processes is presented in a straightforward and imaginative way, to help the reader understand what dementia is like from the inside. Knowing that people with dementia experience emotions and retain implicit memories, for example, helps us to appreciate the isolating and long-lasting effects of insensitive treatment and the need for positive support and ways of communicating. The social perspective on dementia highlights the critical role of society in its various responses to people with dementia and the harmful distortions within common metaphors for dementia such as ‘a living death’. We can grasp the importance of becoming dementia aware and of enabling dementia friendly individuals and communities.
Dementia presents troubling questions about what it means to be a human being. Without our memories and personalities are we still ourselves? How does dementia affect the individual spirit and soul? 
Such questions are tackled in Part Two which considers the experience of someone with dementia in the context of their relationship with God. This theological framing creates a radical shift in perspective. People living with dementia are facing profound and challenging losses, yet there are reasons for hope and opportunities for spiritual growth and development. Dementia cannot take us beyond the reach of God; for stripped of memories we are sustained as people within the mind of God. Note that this is not an argument for leaving everything up to God! We also have a part to play sustaining the personhood of people with dementia. Knowing that people with dementia can still feel and express emotion when all memory has gone, forces us to attend to the immediacy of our encounters and their emotional content. For many of us this will provide much needed development in the important practice of engaging fully with the present moment (God’s now) so as to experience its richness and opportunities.
Part Three asks how we - God’s people - can bring the mind of Christ to people with dementia. The answer, we are told, is to help them to ‘be at peace’. But how? In just three chapters we learn how: to show solidarity through being present to the person with dementia; to offer hope by making meaning and to affirm identity by intentionally re-membering the person. This may sound abstract but these chapters are full of detailed practical advice and suggestions to help us ‘pick up the stitches that have been dropped’.
The final part explores how churches become dementiafriendly communities and includes an invaluable chapter on safeguarding which also touches on common ethical dilemmas. Becoming dementiafriendly requires more than practical adjustments as changes in culture and attitude are needed so that all feel valued and welcomed. The reward is that a community that is dementia friendly is likely to be friendly to all. This book will be invaluable for individuals and faith communities who know little about dementia and are anxious about how to support people who are, or will be, living with this condition. There is also plenty here to inform and equip people who are already ministering to or caring for people with dementia in their own homes and communities or in residential settings. Each chapter concludes with suggestions for further reading and with notes which link to on-line resources. But this is not just a book about dementia, but one that resonates with the task of building vibrant and supportive faith communities. The theology and principles of spiritual practice at the heart of this book are relevant for people experiencing all kinds of diffi culty or marginalisation. Ultimately, it is about who we are as individuals, and how our identity is sustained in God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
*Sally Richards is Visiting Fellow, Oxford Brookes University. She is also learning a new role as Chair of the Welcome and Pastoral Care Committee at St Nicholas Old Marston.


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Products mentioned in or related to this blog post
Thinking Of You (Paperback)
Collicutt, Joanna
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