Understanding the Effects of Spirituality on Dementia and Memory Care

 Effects of Spirituality on Dementia and Memory Care

For many, a spiritual connection provides a source of reassurance, hope and meaning in times of trouble. Those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia might turn to their spirituality for comfort or connection to a higher power in the midst of the cognitive and physical changes brought on by their disease.

“Spirituality plays a major role in a lot of residents’ memory care plans in our community,” shares Polly West, Executive Director at Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods in Nicholasville, KY. “Those living with dementia often cling to their religious practices or spiritual beliefs as a way to find peace, even when their world is changing from the inside out. Believing that there is something greater than them and their disease can help them find perspective and stay positive throughout their struggles with dementia.” 

Defining Spirituality

Although spirituality is often referred to in a religious context, the idea is also commonly used to refer to our non-physical selves and experiences. In their research on the topic “Using Spirituality to Cope with Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease,” doctors Linda Beuscher, GNP, Bc, Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University and Victoria T. Grando, Associate Professor at Arizona State University define spirituality as:

“An individual’s belief developed through the lifespan that influences a person’s interpretation of morals, faith, love, trust, suffering and God. It guides a person’s view of the world and self, providing structure, purpose and meaning to everyday activities.”

According to this definition, the authors discovered several impacts spirituality has on the mental health and sense of overall well-being of seniors in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

How Spirituality Benefits Those with Dementia

Spirituality is expressed and experienced differently for each person, yet studies found that those seeking spiritual relief to cope with their dementia experience several common benefits, including: 

  • Easier acceptance of their disease
  • Relief from worrying and anxiety
  • Lower stress levels and fewer cases of depression
  • Staying connected to family, friends and the community through the church
  • Increases overall quality of life through happiness and positivity

 Another study suggests that maintaining a spiritual connection may actually slow down cognitive decline and help to prevent memory loss. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Alzheimer’s Prevention website released a review of research on the subject that ties the cognitive and mental vitality gained from spirituality to a slower progression of dementia. For example, one study found that those involved in regular religious activities were 36% less likely to experience memory decline than those who did not.

The reasons behind these findings include both scientific and spiritual evidence. It could be that religious habits are often highly familiar and routine-oriented, which is proven to be helpful for those suffering from dementia by strengthening the memory centers of the brain. Also, those who enjoy spiritual activities feel much better afterwards, which decreases the amount of cortisol (a stress-related chemical that damages the brain’s memory centers) released into the body. Another reason is that spirituality simply makes people happier, improving their mental health and encouraging a positive outlook despite their situation, which enhances quality of life and their desire to remain as healthy as possible.

Caring for the Spirit of Someone with Dementia

While a person is still in the early stages of dementia, they are still conscious of the effects of spirituality and can recognize its connection to their own well-being. However, as the disease progresses, it may become harder for those with dementia to participate in spiritual experiences the way they are used to. For example, if a person can no longer drive, they may have to miss worship services they used to attend. Or their decreased cognitive functioning may make it hard to following along with a sermon. Vision problems might make it impossible to read scripture anymore.

Even though their main ways of connecting spiritually may no longer be available to them, and even as dementia seems to strip them of their cognitive abilities, most spiritual people still feel the comfort and reassurance they’ve always experienced when participating in some kind of spiritual activity. You can help someone with dementia enjoy a spiritual connection by: 

  • Reading scripture or devotionals to them. Sometimes seniors with dementia are still able to recite favorite verses they memorized years ago.
  • Play or sing their favorite hymns. Consider this a kind of music therapy as well as spiritual therapy.
  • Pray with them. If they grew up saying the Lord’s Prayer, they may still be able to say it with you.

If you don’t already know the person’s favorite songs, pieces of scripture or spiritual habits, take time to learn them during the earlier stages of their dementia. Then, you will be prepared to help them spiritually into the later stages of their disease.

Memory Care Founded on Faith 

At Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods, we make it possible for our residents to continue to practice all the spiritual activities they used to enjoy. As a Christian Care Community, our philosophy of care is faith-based, allowing us to provide assisted senior care and memory care with compassion and purpose. This also means we understand the spiritual needs of our residents with dementia and do everything we can to help them experience the spiritual connections they desire. 

“Our memory care residents are cared for by compassionate team members who know each resident on a personal level,” says West. “When they can no longer read their own Bible, we know their favorite passages and can read it to them. We also lead Bible studies and worship services that residents can join, regardless of their religious affiliation, and our community chaplain is always available to offer group and individual pastoral care

“Our devotion to the spiritual health of our residents is one aspect that truly sets Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods apart from other memory care communities. We make it our mission to care for the whole person – mind, body and spirit.”

Live Life to the Fullest at Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods 

Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods is a Christian Care Community offering assisted senior care, memory care and adult day services. Located in Brannon Crossing, one of central Kentucky’s most desirable areas, Bridgepointe was designed to help families grow closer as they grow older.

At Bridgepointe, residents enjoy the privacy and dignity of living in their own apartment as well as the peace of mind that comes from the support and assistance of a special team of caregivers. In short, we help our residents live life to its fullest. 

Our community is designed to promote activity, interaction, socialization and enjoyment. We offer a variety of engaging activities daily, from yoga and tai chi to gardening and arts and crafts. At Bridgepointe, there’s never a dull moment and always something to do!

Discover a rich and fulfilling lifestyle combined with personalized care and support delivered by a team of experienced professionals … all within a secure, elegantly appointed community.

We invite you to visit today and discover how Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods can change your life for the better!

To learn more, contact us today!