By / Nov 25

November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. At a past ERLC National Conference on family, we covered a variety of topics helpful to living in a way that honors Christ. One of the breakouts we hosted was titled “Finishing Well Panel: Grandparents, Widows and Caring for Family in their Final Days.” These are important topics that have a lot to do with what we communicate about the gospel, what we communicate about the Lord, and what we communicate about the dignity of everyone in every stage of life. I was joined by several panelists, including: 

Debbie Bethancourt: a mother, grandmother, and caretaker. 
Susie Hawkins: a pastor’s wife and ministry leader.
Benjamin Mast: a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville.
Daniel Darling: an author, senior vice president of National Religious Broadcasters, and a pastor. 

Lindsay Nicolet: I want to start out talking about grandparenting and grandparents. Debbie and Susie, grandparenting is so important, though it might not be elevated in our society. What unique impact can a grandparent have in their grandchildren’s lives? Why is it important as we talk about the cross-shaped family?

Debbie Bethancourt: We have 14 grandchildren and a lot of my friends say, “Well, I only have four.” And I’m say, “Well, you know, it’s not a race. You get what you’re given.” So we have a lot of love to give, and we’re happy with the 14 that we have. I’m very blessed with them. When we had our first grandchild, we had triplets. So we got started off with a bang. And my first thought when I was holding little Luke in my hands and trying to get him to eat at 2.5 pounds was, How in the world are these parents ever going to be able to teach them everything they know? But you know what? They’re 15 now, and those parents have done a great job; not always like I would have done it, but I’ll be first to tell you that I’ve learned over my lifetime that there’s more than one way to do something right. And for me, I just feel like my job was to support, pray, encourage, be a good example, and to just be available for those parents.

Susie Hawkins: That’s exactly right, Debbie. I would add that I see grandparenting as a safety net. In God’s design of the family, extended family and grandparents are a safety net for parents that may be sick or incapacitated in some way. And so you’re a safety net not only just for the physical care sometimes of grandchildren, but the spiritual care as well, because you do have a little more time to pray for them, to concentrate on who they are and their interests, and to invest in them personally in some ways that parents don’t always have.

The other thing I would say about that is that grandparenting gives you a certain distance to help when your daughter or son calls you and says, “We’re having some struggles here, you know, what about this? What about that?” Oftentimes you will find your adult children have a little more of renewed interest in how you parented them, especially as it relates to how they may need to parent their children. So, I think in this day and age grandparenting is more important than ever. Invest in the children and your grandchildren as much as possible.

LN: Dr. Mast, I want to transition to talking about widows. You can’t read the Bible without realizing God’s heart for the vulnerable and being a defender of the fatherless and taking care of widows; in James, it’s true and pure religion before the Lord. Why do you think this is a key theme in the Bible? And what can Christians learn from it?

Benjamin Mast: We’re in this particular culture where we are striving for power everywhere we turn, and we hold up those who have power and those who have influence. When we look at widows, one characteristic that we can see is that they are among a category who are particularly vulnerable. Not necessarily all widows are dependent upon us, but they’re vulnerable emotionally, spiritually, financially. And it’s just as if God has a special place for the vulnerable in his care. He’s teaching us something about where we can be directing our attention and our ministry—it isn’t always about the powerful and the showy and what’s out front. This is a sort of a behind-the-scenes ministry where we’re reaching out to those who might need special care, help, and even protection.

The other thing I think about with orphans and widows is they’re both defined by either the loss or the absence of a relationship, whether parents or a spouse. And God repeats over and over in the Old and New Testament that he will be with us, that he’s present with us, and he doesn’t want us to be alone. So I think part of the reason why it’s so important and what we can learn from it as Christians is that we can be a manifestation of God’s presence and care for those people in that particular stage of life. It forces us to slow down, to look behind the scenes, and maybe look for more of what’s going on. 

LN: I think sometimes it’s out of sight, out of mind. We are around less elderly people because we are less multigenerational as a society and as a civilization. Dan, what other factors do you think lead to this lack of a multigenerational society, even in the church and family? And what do we lose in this?

Dan Darling: I do think one of the things that lends to sort of neglect of widows or even the elderly in our congregations is sometimes in the church there’s a subtle message that we only want church for young and active. We have to be careful because sometimes we actually market that this church is only for the young and the good looking. In fact, there’s a sad story from our community I wrote about in one of my books. There was a guy that was playing guitar at a big church near us for years on their worship team, and all of a sudden they took him off the team. The reason was that he had gray hair. And I just think that’s so antithetical to the kingdom of God. 

You are valued in the kingdom of God, but not because of what you can bring to the body. I think of a gentleman in our church right now who has really late-stage dementia and he can’t even remember his wife’s name. But he comes to church every week and he worships. He actually remembers the worship songs, which is amazing. And he can’t give us great leadership or giftings or even resources. But we need to communicate that he is as valuable to our body and is as important to us because he’s fully human, and God sees him as valuable as anybody else.

Regardless of where you are in terms of your life [stage and quality], you are still a full part of the body of Christ and will one day be resurrected into newness and fullness of life.

LN: Living in multigenerational community is not without its hardships. Debbie, you mentioned it requires a lot of sacrifice because elderly parents get sick or we have siblings that get sick. What have you learned in your caregiving, and how could you encourage others here?

DB: Well, there are a lot of books written about aging, but there’s no particular book written about the process that you will go through with your aging parents. For our situation, I [had] a 93-year-old dad who did pretty well. And then I [had] an 87-year-old mom who was bedridden, being taken care of by hospice. And then on top of that, I have a 60-year-old brother who, when he was 35, was thrown from a car in a wreck and had a traumatic brain injury. He did pretty good taking care of himself until the last couple of years but is in a nursing home now.  

So, I’ve learned that you need a lot of patience. The roles have reversed; you’re now in charge of telling your parents what to do rather than them telling you what to do. You’re always the bad guy. There’s a lot of confusion that goes on. You’re confused because you’re trying to learn everything. They’re confused because they’re in a new place. And every single day is a new day. 

The second thing I’ve learned is to take care of yourself. If you get sick because you sat by their bedside day and night eating improperly, there’s no way that you can care for them. I’ve had friends that spent night and day with their parents, and they just are exhausted. When my brother was in the hospital, my dad said that the doctor told them to go home every night and have a good night’s sleep because they could not help their son if they were not fresh and ready to go in the morning. So thankfully, they remember that and have enabled me to be able to do that, too. 

Another thing I’ve learned is I have to be a peacemaker. I have two brothers, and I am so blessed on this account because I haven’t really had to be a peacemaker. My brothers are happy to let me make the decisions. Then you find that you’re the mediator. You’re the mediator between doctors and caregivers. And, you have to keep everybody in check. But most of all, you have to be really nice to them because they’re in charge of your parents. 

And finally, I’ve learned I’m not in charge. And I have great faith that the Lord is in charge, and he knows what he’s doing. I just sit back and wonder what he has planned because I saw my mom laying in a bed wasting away, and I saw my dad sitting by her bed holding her hand. And my main goal out of all this is just to try to be an example for my children and my grandchildren.

DD: I think the other side of it is that we have Christ as our ultimate caregiving model. So everything we’ve said is we’re giving up something of ourselves, sacrificing something of ourselves to love and care for someone else. And it’s always struck me that when Jesus is about to depart this world, one of the last things that he does is wash his disciples’ feet, which had to be a smelly, unpleasant task and one that they thought he shouldn’t be doing because he was too great. But then he teaches us to do likewise and tells us we’re blessed. So I think in caregiving we see this Christlike, sacrificial love that we’ve been called to. But what I often encourage is that you are a caregiver, not a savior. You have your limits.

One of the things that really surprised me when I began pastoring was that there were times where I would have an elderly parent in my church, and it was really hard for me to get the children to come and even be present and give care. And it really struck me and upset me and made me think deeply about our responsibility to care for those who are elderly. You see this cycle in the life of Jesus: he is first a dependent, vulnerable newborn who is being cared for by his mother. And then he sort of pushes away at the age of 12 and is independent. But then at the end of his life as he’s on the cross, he’s bleeding and dying for our sins, and he makes sure that his mother is cared for and assigns this to John. I think that’s such a powerful example for us in the church that this is not really an optional thing— this is something that God has called us to do. 

LN: Dr. Mast, we see and hear more about Alzheimer’s and dementia these days. Will you clear up some of the misunderstandings that we might have? And will you tell us, as Christians, how we might be set apart in how we minister to those with Alzheimer’s or dementia?

BM: This is an area that I care quite a bit about. There’s just a real contrast in the way that we can think about and have hope for people who are dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s a neurological disorder that affects the brain. It’s irreversible. It’s progressive. And our treatments aren’t that good. The way the world thinks about this is a person gets this disease, they can expect decay, disability, and death. And frankly, in our culture, when somebody no longer can contribute, when they can no longer remember, when they’re now becoming confused, they sort of cease to be a person slowly. And, in terms of hope, there isn’t much. 

But I think, it’s important for us to remember what God has told us about what it means to be a person and who we are. And so, sure, that’s a person who’s affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Their brain is slowly being ravaged by these microscopic changes. But that’s still a person that was created in the image of God. That’s an image-bearer who deserves our honor and respect. We continue to talk to a person. We continue to try to engage them. We continue to try to minister to them. So even though we see these changes, we’re image-bearers. We’re children of God. We mattered enough that Jesus Christ would die for us and promises that he is going to make us new one day. 

So what difference does it make that we’re image-bearers and children of God? I think it makes a huge difference in terms of our hope and the way that we approach someone. A passage that we use often in pro-life circles is Psalm 139, and it starts out by talking about how God searches us and knows us, knows the depths of us, and even before we speak he knows our needs and what’s on our heart. Romans 8 talks about how the Spirit searches us and intercedes in prayers on our behalf. Revelation tells us that one day he’s going to make all things new. 

We think about all these things, and it isn’t just theoretical then. This is a person who matters, so when they can no longer contribute to our churches, they’re still a part of our body. We can still reach out to them. We can engage them with music, with prayer, with familiar Bible passages. And sometimes we even seek to minister to them not knowing whether we’re reaching them, and we trust the work of the Holy Spirit. I think a big part of it is that we continue to show up, to be present, and to see that person as somebody who has value and dignity. In our culture these days, dignity and value come with productivity and responsible behavior. And what we can do for the world is to show that when we approach people in grace, we bestow on them dignity, recognizing who God created them to be, even when their behavior maybe isn’t as appropriate as it used to be. 

In talking with families, I ask them, “What’s the best thing that the church could do for you?” And the number one answer over and over is, “I just wish that somebody from the church were present on this journey with us and willing to go the long haul.” Here’s a story about a simple thing that you can do: a colleague told me about a family whose father got Alzheimer’s disease,  and the church didn’t know what to do. So they just kind of kept their distance. 

And the same man, two years later, was diagnosed with cancer and everybody immediately showed up with casseroles because there was a way for ministering to that family. And that’s still available to us in Alzheimer’s disease. We have to be the church. And as it’s harder for people to make it to the church service, which is definitely an issue in Alzheimer’s and other dementias, we need to be the church that goes to them. The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” We need to be unified and have diversity not only of our age, but also in terms of our ability and our cognition.

LN: Dan, Dr. Mast mentioned pro-life terminology. When we think about being pro-life, we often think about babies. But, how is caring for the elderly, caring for the sick and the unable, a part of a whole life pro-life ethic? And what kind of opportunities does that open up to us?

DD: It definitely demonstrates how we feel about human dignity and about the fact that every human being is creating the image of God. But when we neglect the elderly, we’re actually going against what we say we believe because we’re saying that people are only valuable to us as long as there’s something that they provide for us. In our churches, almost all of us would disagree strongly, thankfully, with the “death with dignity” movement that says we should just end the lives of people who are in that state. But sometimes, by our neglect of people in that stage of life, we’re almost agreeing with that philosophy and saying that they are not useful to us. So, I think we just need to combat that with our care and by going to them and treating them as people, as valuable members of our body. For those of us who are young, one day we’ll be in that condition and we’ll want someone to care for us as well. Regardless of where you are in terms of your life [stage and quality], you are still a full part of the body of Christ and will one day be resurrected into newness and fullness of life.

LN: Dan, will you, once more, give encouragement as to why these issues are so important in helping us be the body of Christ and put on display how great our God is?

DD: One of the things that [these issues] teach us is the fragility of life. I think some of the reasons we don’t often want to be around people in the elderly stage of life is because it reminds us of our own frailty and weakness. And we don’t want to think about that. But it’s really the life cycle. And we learn to depend on Christ in our weakness. I also think it’s a picture of the kingdom of God, which is made up of the weak and the less than noble. This is what should make our churches otherworldly—that [everyone is] valued here because [they’re] valued by God.

By / Feb 10

Search bars are a technological marvel. Through them, we can search the limits of the world. We can see the seven wonders or learn of breaking news as it is happening. We can find more information in seconds than most people in human history had access to in their lifetimes. But search bars also expose some of our most personal and intimate moments, as you search for how to overcome infertility or even cancer. During the Super Bowl, Google ran one of the most powerful ads about the use of technology in a long time. 

In the commercial, a man asks his Google Assistant to remember a number of details about his wife and their marriage as he begins to lose his memory due to Alzheimer's. He searches for the places she loved to visit and even for anniversary photos of them from his photo library. Behind the emotion of this man’s story is the technology powering this tool. Google was using this commercial to show off the abilities of their Assistant platform, which is driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Google reminds us that we use AI each day to do many convenient tasks using our smartphones, tablets, smart speakers, and computers. Through this use of Google Assistant, we see how AI can be harnessed to remind us of what makes us human and the greater purpose of technology. 

What makes us human

So much of the hype surrounding AI flows from the ability of this technology to do things typically reserved for humans. Since the beginning of time, our technologies have only been able to aid us in our work and lives. But with the advent of modern AI systems, some tend to believe that today’s technologies are beginning to cross a line between a tool and something entirely different. This is especially true with smart assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri.

Before the advent of AI systems used in voice recognition and natural language processing, we couldn’t communicate with our creations like we would another human being. While we can use our voices to interact with animals, we couldn’t have an actual conversation with anything else. But, we can now interact with our tools—powered by AI—as if they are human beings, which naturally begins to blur the line between us and “them.”

Amidst much of the hype about robots leaving us jobless or deciding to revolt against us, our creations will never be able to replace us because they were never created to be on par with us as God’s image-bearers. Our place in creation was secured by the Creator of the cosmos and can’t be changed by the advent of any technology. We are created higher and more valuable than the rest of creation as the only ones made in his image (Gen 1:26-28). 

Instead of replacing us, the Loretta commercial reminds us that technology can be designed and used in such a way that serves us, allowing us to connect with and cherish others created in God's image. I can’t tell you how many times I have added something to my Evernote notebooks so that I don't forget. Whether it is a note for work or even my wife’s shoe size for future gifts, this form of technology aids me by allowing me to extend my physical memory and live a more productive life. It serves me as I seek to become more like how God created me to be in the midst of a fallen world. 

The goal and purpose of all technological innovation is to serve us as we serve the Creator of the universe.

This is exactly what the man was doing throughout the commercial; he was asking his Google Assistant to remember things for him because of the brokenness that he was experiencing in his body. This is not the way that that world was meant to be, ravaged by sin, disease, and death. But by utilizing various technologies like AI, we can be active agents of God who reflect his image in us as we seek to roll back the effects of the fall in our world. While we will never ameliorate the effects of sin and disease, we reflect God’s imprint on us as we use the tools around us to love him and to love our neighbor.

The greater purpose of technology

Often in our consumerist and materialist world, we define humanity down by acting as if the value of our neighbors is based on their contributions to society rather than the God they were made to image. We assign someone’s value and dignity based on what they do or how they can help us. This is antithetical to the biblical message of dignity and an idea that we must reject. Regardless of our perceived value of others or their contributions to the greater good, each human being is created in God’s image and has infinite value and worth.

This was the underlying message of the Google commercial that brought tears to our eyes. In the ad, we see a man created in God’s image ravished by a disease that not only ruins our bodies but also our minds. He has no real contribution to his family or society. He likely would be seen as a drain on resources or even a burden to be carried, rather than a man fashioned by God. The AI in this commercial became a tool that this man used to remind himself of the little details of life and aid his calling as a husband and father. This ad serves as a reminder to all of us that technology is meant to amplify our lives rather than overshadow them.

The goal and purpose of all technological innovation is to serve us as we serve the Creator of the universe. It is easy to get that pattern flipped by forgetting God and then letting technology rule over us. It is tempting to cut ourselves off from the world around us for a few more minutes of breaking news on Twitter or construe our lives in such a way that the Instagram algorithms gains us more likes. It is easy to mold our lives around our technologies rather than mold our use and development of technology to our lives and the goal of human flourishing for all. 

I believe, as Christians, we are called to reflect the image of God in everything we do. For some, this might mean considering more carefully how our work developing technology is aiding the goal of human flourishing. For others, it will mean re-evaluating the ways we use these tools in our daily lives. Whether we are tempted to forget the purpose of technology in our lives because of the powerful ways we can use it today or maybe even because a disease is ravishing our minds, let's never forget whose image we are fashioned after and the life that he calls us to pursue.

By / Nov 21

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:

  • God loves us regardless of our cognitive and intellectual ability.
  • God cares for those who are unable to care for themselves.
  • The Holy Spirit searches the depths of our hearts and minds (Psa.139; Rom. 8:27).
  • The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with prayers beyond our comprehension, particularly when we don’t know what to pray (Rom. 8:26).
  • The Holy Spirit sustains our connection to the triune God (John 14:15-31).
  • Jesus modeled sacrificial love and taught us to wash each other’s feet (John 13:1-20).
  • Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
  • God remembers us regardless of our ability to remember him (Isa. 49:15-16).

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!

By / Sep 21

September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day.   Millions of people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias that often leave them feeling confused, afraid and alone.  These conditions don’t just affect individuals, but entire families who live with the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of caregiving.  

Our church communities are not immune to Alzheimer’s disease and its effects, though we may not always recognize Alzheimer’s in our midst—either because people fear the stigma of sharing their struggle with others or they have stopped participating in the life of the church due to their cognitive decline and loss of independence.   

I pray that this Alzheimer’s Awareness Month prompts us to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and caregiving and consider how our church communities can offer grace, hope and love to families affected by this disease.  

The resolution below was submitted to and unanimously approved by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2016.  Please take a moment to read this resolution and pray about how you can reach out and minister to those who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and the families who carry the heavy responsibility of caregiving.  

RESOLUTION

On Alzheimer’s Disease And Dementia, Caregiving, And The Church

WHEREAS, More than five million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, and at least 14 percent of people over the age of seventy are currently experiencing some form of dementia, and these numbers are projected to continue to rise over the coming decades; and

WHEREAS, There is currently no cure and people with Alzheimer’s live with progressively worsening disability and greater dependence on other people; and

WHEREAS, Family members take on the vast majority of caregiving responsibilities and often experience significant burden, stress, depression, and isolation, with the caregiving demands so great that some experience deterioration of their own health and often find it difficult to continue to participate in the life of the church; and

WHEREAS, God calls us to care for the most vulnerable among us, including those who are unable to remember or speak for themselves (Isaiah 58:1–14; Zechariah 7:8–10; James 1:27); and

WHEREAS, All people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) and this status as image bearers does not depend upon cognitive or intellectual ability, because all people, including those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, have value and are loved by God; and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message highlights the call “to provide … for the aged, the helpless, and the sick” and to “contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, June 14–15, 2016, call upon our churches to seek education related to Alzheimer’s and dementia, learning how to care for and journey with adults in their communities who are experiencing such conditions; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we ask our churches prayerfully to consider expanding ministry programs to include the needs of older adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their family caregivers; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge our churches to treat people with Alzheimer’s and dementia with dignity and continue to invite them into the life of the church, rehearsing the good news of the Gospel together, singing familiar songs and hymns, reading Scripture together, and praying together, including well-known prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call upon our churches to seek opportunities to care for and support caregiving families through word and prayer, and also through practical assistance, respite, and companionship as a community of believers; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call upon our seminaries and colleges to offer Alzheimer’s and dementia education in their ministry and counseling training programs; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage Southern Baptist pastors to seek training in order to become aware of the challenges of living with Alzheimer’s and dementia and practical ways to minister to this vulnerable group in our communities; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we appeal to Southern Baptists to carry out the mission of the church by reaching outward to families and individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia in their surrounding communities and neighborhoods, praying that we would be known by our love amongst a people who are often isolated and desperate for community and support.

By / Nov 18

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregiver Month.  As the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s diseases continues to surge, our systems of care have struggled to meet the need.  After the initial diagnosis, care often moves out of the doctor’s office and into the community—giving Christians and churches both the challenge and opportunity of responding to this question: How can I love my neighbor with dementia?  

We can start by learning about Alzheimer’s disease and build upon that by living out the gospel in their care.  Here are 10 things to remember about Alzheimer’s and caregiving.  

  1. Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, and there is no cure.  The memory problems only get worse and eventually other functions of the brain are affected including judgment, decision-making, communication and problem solving.  
  2. Not surprisingly, Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared medical conditions among older people and many baby boomers.  
  3. People with Alzheimer’s disease and the family members who care for them (caregivers) experience the pain of Alzheimer’s disease differently but equally.  Many caregivers feel a mix of weariness, burden, depression and grief.   We should care for both the person diagnosed and their caregivers.
  4. People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias continue to feel the same spiritual and emotional needs as the rest of us.  They have need for faith, hope and love. Indeed, perhaps their greatest need is love.  
  5. Loneliness is one of the major challenges of Alzheimer’s disease.  Even when your loved ones can no longer remember your name, they still need your friendship and presence in their lives.
  6. Many caregivers report feeling abandoned by their church families.  Once they are unable to get to church on Sunday, they can feel forgotten.  One pastor noted, “Sometimes I think the church has an Alzheimer’s of it’s own,” referring to our tendency to forget those who are no longer present on Sunday.  Many caregivers long for the church to journey with them through this difficult stage of life. Stay present.  Check in.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you as you listen and care for them.
  7. Many pastors feel ill-equipped to address the unique challenges of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  They often tell me that seminary has not prepared them for this aspect of ministry.   
  8. People with Alzheimer’s disease often (but not always) respond to well-known rhythms of faith, including songs and hymns that they have known for decades.  Familiar prayers and favorite scripture passages can also prompt remembering God and their story of faith.  When we help initiate these activities, they have the opportunity to respond, even if only in the moment. These moments matter, even if they are later forgotten.
  9. Even a progressive neurological condition like Alzheimer’s disease cannot separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.   
  10. Though people with Alzheimer’s disease may sometimes seem to forget God, he will never forget them. His remembrance of us is never dependent upon what we do or remember.  We can take hope that he has their name graven on his hands, he knows their thoughts completely, and even when they cannot speak, the Holy Spirit intercedes for them in prayers beyond words.  What a great God, that even when we are unable to speak and others no longer understand us, he knows our thoughts, understands the very core of our being, and responds in grace and love with prayers on our behalf!   
  11. Jesus promises that whatever we do for the least of these brothers and sister in Christ, we have done for him.  Even the seemingly smallest efforts to care for people with dementia and their caregivers in love and mercy will not go unnoticed and will not be forgotten.  

Let’s take time to pray on behalf of people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers this month.  Pray not only that God will meet them and provide for them in the difficulty, confusion, and weariness, but also that we will better know how to graciously step in to love and minister to our neighbors affected by this condition.   

By / Nov 1

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregiver Month. As the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s diseases continues to surge, our systems of care have struggled to meet the need. After the initial diagnosis, care often moves out of the doctor’s office and into the community—giving Christians and churches both the challenge and opportunity of responding to this question: How can I love my neighbor with dementia?

Download the brief for more information.