Congregation and Community

Identifying Needs

Are there people in your congregation or community who are living with dementia and struggling to remain connected?  Are there care partners who are in need of support?  Could a day program meet needs of people in your midst by providing encouragement and fellowship and respite?  Would such a program provide an opportunity for outreach in your local community?  How do we go about answering these questions? 

Barriers to Participation

Through pastoral care and elder visits, you may already be aware of people in your midst who are living with dementia.  Many people who are living with dementia, however, prefer not to be identified, so it can be a challenge to be of help.  Often, care partners try to get by on their own without help because of the stigma that is attached to dementia and/or because it is difficult to admit the need for help.  For those in your congregation, the risk associated with the stigma may be especially intimidating because existing relationships are valued.  Consequently, it is very important to maintain strict confidentiality, and you may find that in the beginning more of your participants are from the community than from the congregation.

Overcoming Barriers

Education and awareness can help break down barriers.  Holding workshops and discussions can begin the process, and also help to identify those who have either a need for the program or an interest in helping with it.  Having a Side by Side program can also contribute to improved awareness and understanding by increasing visibility of the needs of people living with dementia and through the training that volunteers receive.  Once a program is started, a casual invitation can be extended to a prospective participant and care partner to come and check out the program together so that there is little risk in trying it out.  Even when you sense that there are barriers for people, don’t give up on them, because care partners who have been hesitant to enrol often say they wish they had joined the program earlier!

One of the ways that Side by Side really helps to break down barriers is by treating each person with respect and sensitivity.  Participants are encouraged to help out in the ways that they are able.

Because everyone in the Side by Side program is helping out in whatever way they are able, visitors to Side by Side often comment that they can’t tell which of the people taking part are participants and which are volunteers.  This is critically important, not only because it protects the wellbeing of the participant, but also because it helps eliminate the sense of stigma.

Focus on Ability

It’s so important for each of us to contribute!!  It makes such a difference to how we feel inside if we are able to help out even in small ways.  Many people who are living with dementia, particularly in the early stages, are very capable of helping occasionally with certain small chores that they might be used to doing or have an interest in.  Most everyone is capable of extending kindness to others, and connecting to others with a smile, grin, or sometimes a hearty joke.  Each of these connections is something to be treasured in the moment.  Even if the fact of the connection is later forgotten, the connection itself can still contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing. 

People living with dementia are capable of connecting with others. Even if the fact of the connection is later forgotten, the connection itself can still contribute to a sense of wellbeing.

Start Early

The earlier that a participant starts at Side by Side, the better!  Being part of the group serves to foster social connections and establishes a routine that may be more difficult to introduce later on.  As the ministry grows, you may also find opportunity to offer care partners more chances to connect with one another.

Reaching Out to Community

If there is no one in your congregation who is living with dementia, Side by Side may be more of an outreach opportunity, and a means of connecting with your local community.  Consider hosting a workshop or a talk on faithful responses to dementia.  Invite the congregation and encourage congregation members to invite others they know who might be interested.  Extend the invitation to other congregations in your area, or even advertise in a local community publication to encourage others in the surrounding community to join the discussion. 

God is weaving a tapestry of care
that connects all of us in Grace.
Come. Be part of it.

© 2020