Our Aging Loved Ones: Tips for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Partners at Abiding Christ Lutheran Church

I am the Parish Nurse at Abiding Christ Lutheran Church in Fairborn, Ohio. We have a health ministry team of 8 people that work together to offer support, education and resources for our congregation of about 350. Early last year, we had two different families with a family member diagnosed with dementia. At about the same time, the opportunity presented itself to attend the conference “Refresh Your Soul 2017 - Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Overcoming the Struggles & Living Inspired” in Cincinnati. It was perfect timing for us to receive more education on dementia which allowed us to pass on information to our congregation. The conference was excellent! It inspired us to offer a class at the church on dementia.

Our class was called “Our Aging Loved Ones: Tips for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Partners”. The first class was offered June 4th, 2017 and repeated on September 24th, 2017. The class was held at Abiding Christ in our multi-purpose room where there is audiovisual equipment and enough room to set up round tables to facilitate discussion. At the first class in June, we had three instructors: the first had just finished medical school and was entering his medical residency training in the fall, the second instructor was a PhD RN who works at Hospice of Dayton, is an advanced practice nurse and works daily with dementia patients and I served as the third instructor. One of the speakers at the Dementia conference in Cincinnati was Teepa Snow. To prepare for the class, I registered for 3 additional webinars given by Teepa and purchased two of her CDs about care partner stress and dementia. The health ministry team secured funding through a Thrivent grant for lunch and copying costs.

Our objectives were to: 1) receive information about the pathophysiology of dementia; 2) understand the many kinds of dementia (including alzheimer’s); 3) receive information on the different ways people living with dementia respond to their physical and cognitive changes; and 4) learn helpful hints for communicating with and understanding the needs of people living with dementia.

We had a total of 59 people attend both classes. The class was open to anyone in the church or the community and we actually had five people from the community who attended the first class. We also videotaped the class so it could be viewed later.

Lessons learned: We were astounded by how many people in our own congregation are affected directly or indirectly by this disease. Whether it was a family member or the friend of a friend, all those who attended our classes were so filled with emotion (anger, grief, fear, hope and shame) that we should have allotted more time for open discussion and sharing. I just don’t think there are enough opportunities for people to share these experiences in an environment free of judgment. In addition, it is very important to be aware of resources to refer attendees to if they need more information or are in a crisis. Our instructor who works with Hospice was very helpful in this regard. Ideally, having more nursing homes and memory care facilities familiar with and using Teepa Snow’s “Positive Approach to Care” techniques would be helpful. It is a very good program. Finally, we learned the hard way in this class to have someone with good audiovisual experience (not the instructor) available to provide support for the event. Unfortunately, our recording didn’t have any sound!

We received positive feedback for the classes. The only negative or constructive feedback was the suggestion to have more time for discussion and storytelling. Overall, we feel like the class broke down barriers for families in our church so they may feel comfortable sharing more about their day to day experiences of care partnering for someone living with dementia. Hopefully they feel like they have resources and support that they did not have before.

Beth Ewing, RN, BSN, MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC
LSIM Parish Nurse
(Lutheran Saints in Ministry)