WILLIAM SMITH: Churches Are In Postion to Offer Hope
It is estimated that one in 10 persons over 65 has Alzheimer's disease, although it can occur in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
Because Alzheimer's progresses at different rates among diverse individuals, their symptoms and behaviors vary.
The most common early symptoms include frequent, short-term memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation as to time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, and misplacing things or putting things in inappropriate places. Despite the differences, Alzheimer's patients share two things in common: the disease is progressive, and it is ultimately fatal.
Because Alzheimer's patients have trouble expressing themselves it may be difficult at times to know what their needs may be. Patience and genuine concern for their well-being will help us understand that they long to be loved and respected, to feel good about themselves and to be included, not alienated or marginalized, and to find some joy in life like everyone else.
A few family photos, a collection of beloved hymns or other favorite music will lift their spirits, if only temporarily. The important thing is to be sensitive to their needs and try as best we can in answering them.
The Village Chapel in Pinehurst has a monthly meeting specifically for caregivers called, "A Christian Caregivers' Support Group."
At the March meeting the husband and daughter of an Alzheimer's patient shared their stories. Their wife and mother is a Christian, who loves to hear familiar hymns, Bible lessons, and prayer. But most of all she responds to the love that surrounds her.
Not once did her family complain about the burden of caring or the prospect of prolonged illness. Instead they shared what a joy it is to put her favorite flowers on the table, to prepare favorite food just the way she likes it, and to make sure she enjoys the beauty of Spring.
In that family the words of Jesus are incarnated, "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (John 13:34)
Forecasters tell us that by 2030, 20 percent of all Americans will be 65 or older. Starting in 2012, nearly 10,000 Americans will become 65 every day, changing the "baby boom" to "senior boom." If 10 percent of those have Alzheimer's, the implications stagger the mind.
I submit that the church is uniquely suited to meet this challenge to minister not only to their own members but to people in the community.
Pastors need to take leadership in developing teams of members who after proper training can become caregivers. There are excellent resources available through the National Alzheimer's association, and physicians and medical staffs are eager to work with us.
Above all, we must be people of hope. A wise rabbi declared, "Healing is possible even when curing is not." I have seen families come together as never before to surround an ailing loved one with tender care and in the process become a truly loving family.
Lisa P. Gwyther, of the Center for Aging, Alzheimer's Support Program at Duke University Medical Center, knows what is happening in the latest scientific research to find a cure to this dread disease.
She also understands the crucial role of religion. In her splendid book, "You Are One Of Us," she reminds us that "the role of the church community is to communicate God's presence as a reassuring haven of stability in their lives." To communicate God's presence and God's love is their higher calling.
I urge all persons of faith to become more aware of the increase of Alzheimer's among our senior citizens and ask, "How may I become a caregiver to a patient or family member in urgent need of relief?"
Dr. William Smith is a retired minister living in Pinehurst.
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