What should Christians know about Alzheimer’s Disease?

November 21, 2018

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Family Caregiver Month.

Alzheimer’s disease is perhaps the most challenging disease in modern life. It’s a major source of disability and leads to suffering for over 5 million Americans. To make matters worse, the number of people experiencing is expected to triple in the coming decades.  

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) develops gradually, typically starting with memory changes and eventually affecting other abilities like planning, problem solving, and communication. These changes ultimately lead to disability.  People with AD may have difficulty managing money and medication, driving a car, or living independently. At some point, a person will need help with more basic aspects of daily living including dressing, bathing, eating, and using the toilet. When a person becomes unable to care for themselves, they often lose the ability to offer input on their own lives. Many are overlooked, excluded, and some are even treated like children.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. We don’t even have treatments that stop its progression. A recent analysis found that 99 percent of clinical trials of new medicines fail, and the last FDA approved medication for Alzheimer’s came on the market in 2003.  For those facing a diagnosis, things feel very hopeless. And from a medical perspective, there currently doesn’t seem to be much encouragement for people living with dementia.

What do we need to remember?

From a biblical perspective, however, we are a people called to hope. A biblical view of the person recognizes that all people have inherent value as created beings, who were made in the image of God (Gen.1:27) Because of our status as God’s children, we are to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of ability. Moreover, God instructs us to provide special care, concern, and protection of those who are vulnerable (Jam. 1:27; Isa. 58; Zech. 7:9-10)

As God’s people, we are called to remember him, and to hold to biblical truths about his relationship to his people, including those with dementia. This means that:

What can we do?

With these biblical truths in mind, what can we as the church do to show honor, love, and respect to our forgetful and confused neighbors and family members?  How can we specifically treat these members of our body with dignity? How can we help support the spiritual lives of people living with dementia?

We first need to recognize that people with Alzheimer’s have a range of needs that we can help address, whether emotional (comfort), physical (help with daily tasks around the house), or financial (providing aid, protection against financial exploitation).

People with AD also have spiritual needs. They need activities and disciplines that maintain their connection to their church family and remind them of God’s grace, love, and care. They need meaningful activity and a sense of purpose. For Christians with AD, this can be found in the biblical practices that the church has relied upon for centuries. When you visit or spend time with someone who has dementia, consider doing some of these things:  

Pray: Pray for people with Alzheimer’s and offer to pray with the person you know who has Alzheimer’s. It can be helpful to use well-known prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer, because these have been repeated many times and draw on different memory systems that are relatively spared in dementia.

Sing: Many people with Alzheimer’s connect with music. Familiar songs and hymns can be used to help people remember God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Read Scripture: Familiar Scripture passages are a powerful source of spiritual encouragement for all people, including those with dementia. These offer reminders of God’s promises and presence. Offer to read them to people with dementia, and invite them to read along if the passage is familiar (and if the person retains reading ability).

Tell stories of faith: These can include Bible stories and the person’s life story. Many people with dementia remember early parts of their life story well after they begin to show symptoms. Memory for important events from earlier in life (especially late adolescence and early adulthood) are sometimes spared and offer a way of connecting with a forgetful person.

Show love: Above all things, find opportunities to show love. Show kindness. Tell them they are loved and valued. Show appropriate affection.

Care for family caregivers: The church can also care for caregivers—those family members and friends who have acted in sacrificial love to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. This can be an incredibly difficult season of life that leads to exhaustion, stress, depression, fear, worry, and poor health. We can listen, mourn alongside, offer help, maintain contact, help find resources, and stay present in the lives of our caregiving brothers and sisters.

As Christians, we shouldn’t shy away from things we don’t understand or that are difficult. Alzheimer’s Disease is a prime example. Instead of pulling away, we should proactively love our brothers and sisters who are plagued with AD, pointing them to the promises of God and trusting that he will sustain them until the fog has been cleared once and for all.

If you are affect by AD, check out Dr. Mast’s most recent book Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel in Alzheimer’s Disease.

From the tiniest unborn life to the elderly at the end of life, from immigrants and refugees to those trafficked against their will, all life matters to God. Join the ERLC in Washington, D.C .on January 17-18, 2019, for Evangelicals for Life, one of the largest gatherings of pro-life Christians in the country. Speakers include Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Steven Curtis Chapman, Keith and Kristyn Getty, and more. Register now to join us!

Benjamin Mast

Dr. Benjamin Mast is a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville. He received his bachelor's degree in Psychology at Calvin College and went on to get his PhD from Wayne State University. Dr. Mast's research interests include dementia, late life depression, geriatric assessment, person-centered perspectives … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24