For many older Americans, religious faith and spiritualty have always played an important role in their lives. And today, memory care researchers are finding growing evidence that faith and spirituality have a valuable therapeutic role for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of progressive memory loss – particularly in the early stages.
Spirituality as a Coping Mechanism for Memory Loss
Elaine Austin, Executive Director of Provident Village at Creekside in Smyrna, GA, says, “We have observed for many years that persons of faith seem to cope with the changes caused by their memory loss especially well. They find strength and acceptance through their faith and benefit from a greater sense of peace and calm. This is particularly important because memory loss typically causes anxiety and agitation as it progresses.
“This is a key reason why we recognize the role of faith and spiritually in our memory care at Provident Village at Creekside and actively support and encourage related activities with interested residents.
“Now that the benefits of faith and spirituality in memory loss are being substantiated by memory care experts, it is equally important for at-home caregivers to embrace their value as well.
The Science Behind the Benefits of “Keeping the Faith”
However you might define faith and spirituality, scientific research has shown that “believing that there is something greater than them and their disease (memory loss) can help them find perspective and stay positive throughout their struggles with dementia.”
Several memory care studies, including “Using Spirituality to Cope with Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease,” published in the National Institutes of Health by Linda Beuscher, PhD, APN, BC, and Victoria T. Grando, PhD, APRN, BC, have recognized the value of faith and spirituality for those with memory loss.
These studies collectively reported that older people with early stage memory loss believed that their personal spirituality was important in their acceptance of their memory loss, and relief from fears and anxiety.
Specifically, faith and spirituality appear to consistently aid those with memory loss in several ways, including:
- Easier acceptance of their memory loss
- Relief from worrying and anxiety commonly associated with memory loss
- Lower stress levels and fewer cases of depression
- Staying connected to family, friends and the community through the church
- Improved overall quality of life through happiness and a positive attitude
Further, other memory care studies reported on the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Alzheimer’s Prevention website suggest that maintaining a spiritual connection may actually slow down cognitive decline and help to prevent memory loss. They conclude that in at least three studies in peer-reviewed journals, researchers have found that religious activity is associated with either a slowing of memory loss in persons with Alzheimer’s disease or a slowing in memory loss associated with normal aging.
Overall, individuals with early stage memory loss cope with their loss of self-esteem, independence and social interactions by drawing on their faith and spiritual activities to find comfort, security, a sense of belonging and identity. Understanding how people use spirituality to cope with memory loss is a critical step in developing tailored memory care interventions that enhance their ability to adapt and ultimately improve their quality of life.
Tips for Spiritually Engaging a Person with Memory Loss
This useful research information also provides opportunities for at-home caregivers to utilize their loved one’s faith as a form of memory care therapy.
ACT on Alzheimer’s, a resource for faith community members,reaffirms the idea that people who have memory loss, especially those raised in faith-based households, can be uplifted by worship services and clergy visits. Age-old rituals and hearing favorite hymns and scripture passages can also be very helpful.
They suggest the following activities for your loved one with memory loss:
- Use older scriptures or translations and encourage interaction; the person may no longer relate to the newer, international versions.
- Foster an atmosphere of joy, trust and comfort.
- Make connections through music – traditional songs or old hymns may be better received than modern spiritual music.
- Create a spiritual connection during a home visit with a familiar prayer or scripture – or recount a familiar special event at your place of worship.
- Involve the person in activities that connect him or her with others, and that match the person’s changing abilities, such as:
- Attending choir concerts or taking part in Sunday school
- Doing tasks that are repetitive; e.g., stuffing bulletins, filing, sorting, etc.
- Creating an album or filling a “memory box” with special items
- Participating in intergenerational programs
Adds Elaine, “Our mission at Provident Village at Creekside is to ensure that our residents with memory loss live their most vibrant days. It is a personal mission rooted deeply in spirituality and faith. We go beyond every expectation to ensure we take care of our residents in the right way.”
Your Family Resource for Assisted Living and Memory Care Information
In addition to providing exceptional memory care for loved ones, Provident Village at Creekside also serves as a valuable source of information, resources and support for area families. We invite you to read our regular articles and tips on important assisted living and memory care topics as well as to join us for our free public education programs each month.
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Creekside
At Provident Village at Creekside, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we've created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it's in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident's specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.