Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
For Christians who have dementia, even quite advanced, Christmas Carol Services can be a great blessing. Their minds may have forgotten that it is Christmas time, or even what it means, but the Holy Spirit within them hasn’t. And the emotions associated with Christmas, often laid down over decades of worship and celebration, remain. Psalm 42 talks about ‘deep calling to deep’, and the carols and liturgy can evoke deep blessings. A former nurse who had cared for several years for her husband with dementia at home, told me how her church helped her him attend his last Carol Service. ‘They managed to get a ramp for his wheelchair, so we could get him up the steps, and we had a taxi that could take wheelchairs,’ she said. ‘He wasn’t speaking or anything by then, but I could tell that he knew he was in church. I could see how happy it made him.’
Here are a few tips for Carol Services that include people with dementia – and hopefully, that will be all of them!
If you’re thinking of having a candle lit service, consider a well lit section for people with dementia. They usually need plenty of light to see clearly, and shadows from flickering candles can be confusing. And think about putting fluorescent tape along the edge of steps.
On our website is a little booklet, called ‘Christmas Friendship & Loneliness: Starting and Sustaining Conversations Resource.’ (https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/pages/search.aspx?q=Christmas%20Conversations).
When Ada Risdale, age 93, became a volunteer in a Welsh befriending scheme, she was putting an end to years of isolation and loneliness. In caring for her husband who had dementia she had lost touch with her friends. ‘You see less and less [sic] people, and when he died I was on my own, which is how a lot of people end up,’ she said. ‘I became very depressed. It’s an awful thing, to have no one to talk to.’[i] Now Ada meets another woman who had been similarly isolated, and they have a coffee and a chat. Ada says it’s good for both of them.
Ada has joined the army of volunteers who are helping others. The value of volunteers to the economy is estimated at about £100 billion every year, but to the charities they benefit and the people they help, they are beyond price.
Our housing and care homes would not be the same without their ‘Friends’ group, people drawn from local evangelical churches who befriend residents, pray with them, sometimes visit them in hospital, and pray for the staff, too. Some years ago, a Social Services executive said that these circles of friends were part of what makes our Charity unique.
Typical is Mary Goodspeed who visits people in our Leonora Home in Chippenham. When asked what she would say to a prospective volunteer she said, “the BBC has said that we are living in the age of loneliness. We can help change that … Some need a chat or simply a listening ear and all need fellowship. It’s a privilege to share in this ministry.”
Hearing stories of isolation like Ada’s, and knowing that 2 ½ million older people are living on their own can make you feel that you are standing on the edge of an ocean of loneliness. But so many churches are like lighthouses in their communities, organising regular activities and day centres, offering warmth, food and friendship – and more.
St John’s Church in Felbridge organised speakers on dementia every Thursday evening last month, inviting people in from the community, including care homes and sheltered housing – everyone they could reach. And before the talk, everyone sat down to a splendid two course meal, including a a glass of wine. Volunteers worked most of the day preparing the place and the meal so that everyone would feel welcome.
Revd Vikki Bunce of Romford Baptist Church emailed news of an early Christmas celebration for 60 seniors at the end of November. Vikki wrote, ‘Our time together started with drinks and catching up with one another or meeting new people before being served a fantastic Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Between courses there were brain teasers and word quizzes. Then tables were stripped bare of glasses, cloths and crockery before the afternoon activities. Everyone made a snowman donation for the Christmas tree and some got into the party spirit by pinning them on to their clothes or even in their hair! We put actions to the Twelve Days of Christmas song amidst roars of laughter. We also sang Christmas carols, and remembered the real meaning of Christmas with the familiar words of the Christmas story, and a short reflection. We finished the afternoon with a game of Snowman Drive (a derivation of Beetle Drive) and hot drinks and home-made mince pies.’
Vicky added, ‘What is remarkable about such events is that most of the team who run our times are themselves well above the age of those who come along to participate, including two of the key chefs who are in their 70’s! The team’s enthusiasm is infectious and there’s much laughter amidst the brainstorming in the planning meetings. This remarkable group of individuals are looking to host an additional four such themed days in 2018 alongside the Holiday at Home week next year.’
[i] South Wales Argus, Friday December 8, 2017
Writer Christopher Matthew, (78), asks – how do you know when you are growing old? He observes that there was a time not so long ago when you knew that you were old. He describes how his father and mother, ‘like countless others of their generation knew instinctively when old age had arrived and behaved appropriately.’ *
But how much was that ‘instinctive acceptance’ generated by their expectations, which in turn sprang from yester-years’ experience? Because today’s older generation are, by and large, healthier and more active than any before them. There are people in their 90s and 100s who are still enjoying their work, with even a handful running races , swimming and doing yoga. Judith Kerr, who writes children’s stories published her most recent book at the age of 94.
The conclusion Mr Matthew reaches is that ‘old age is not necessarily for old people. It is purely for people who suffer from old age.” In other words, if you’re fit and reasonably healthy, then you don’t feel old, so you don’t ‘live old’. Which makes sense, when you think about it.
Although there are a number of people coping with frailties in old age, there are more who are fairly robust. So many churches tell us that the people who are cooking for their cafes, organising their community outreach and so on are well into their retirement.
We’d better shake our feathers, because a recent report by economist John Hawksworth says that, the health of our future economies depend on encouraging older people to stay in the workforce. BMW in Germany has adapted its working environment to suit older people, as well as young.
It’s worth reading Chapter 7 in my new book, which has a list of checkpoints for well-being in old age. They are checks, balances and strategies best put in place now! You can buy the book through our website, www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk
*Daily Express, 1st December 2017
Yesterday, I found myself being asked questions by a researcher for a theological project that had been answered in my first book about dementia, ‘Could it Be Dementia? Losing your mind doesn’t mean losing your soul.’ While going through the manuscript to make sure I hadn’t imagined it, I came across a little piece about how reading (and possibly using) the language of Shakespeare strengthens your brain. There’s a lot about today about digital brain training programs, but experts agree that, in the main, they train your brain in that particular process only. Not everybody likes digital games, anyway. So here’s what I found in 2007 (the book was published in 2008).
“Read Shakespeare or the Authorised Version
If you do not like technology, you can turn to language. Shakespeare is good for your brain, say researchers at the University of Liverpool. They are looking to see if wrestling with the differently structured use of language could help to prevent dementia. (Good news for aficionados of the original King James Version of the Bible.) Monitoring participants with brain-imaging equipment they found that certain lines from Shakespeare and other great writers such as Chaucer and Wordsworth caused the brain to spark with electrical activity because of the unusual words or sentence structure. And researchers at York University in Toronto say that people who are bilingual and speak both languages every day for most of their lives can delay the onset of dementia by up to four years, compared with those who only know one language.  The Western Mail in South Wales was quick to pounce on this story and ran it with the headline, ‘Learn Welsh and fight off the onset of dementia’. ”
Time to brush up your Shakespeare! And to enthuse you, here’s the lively little song on Youtube:
Janet recently took a ‘workshop’ with a group of older people who were caring for their husbands or wives. Janet used to be a psychogeriatric nurse and care home manager, and knows about the strain that caregiving can be when you are the main carer. She is one of our speakers and trainers. She’s also aware that family caregivers tend to neglect looking after themselves.
She said, “it was a real privilege to share with them. Being a sole caregiver is a very demanding role. They are all doing a very good job, and giving it their utmost, but like so many others in their position they feel inadequate and doubt their capabilities. Simply being able to share their common experiences with one another was so helpful. Knowing that others have similar burdens, and completely understood their cares and concerns helped them see things in an entirely different light.
“Caregivers put their own lives on hold and are totally preoccupied with their loved ones’ needs. When I asked these dedicated folk what one thing would make a the most difference to them, they all said, “to be able to please myself sometimes”. They said that their timetables revolve around their spouse’s needs.
“They also said how sad they were when friends asked how their spouse was, but not about how they were doing. It was such a joy to share with them the importance of caring for themselves, and to give themselves some ‘Hot Chocolate’ moments.”
A ‘Hot Chocolate’ moment is doing something that you like deliberately for a short while, to give yourself a break. It comes from the TV commercial where a frazzled mother hired a babysitter so that she could go into the kitchen and make herself a cup of hot chocolate – which she promptly took into another room altogether where she was alone to enjoy it. “Hot Chocolate” can be whatever works for you: listening to a piece of music, reading a chapter of a book, meditating, doing some stretching exercises, phoning a friend – whatever does it for you!
This group of family caregivers, who are living in our retirement flats in Yorkshire, have decided to get together once a week to talk, and to share over a cup of tea. They’re going to call it their ‘Hot Chocolate Group.’
It’s good guidance for people who’d like to come alongside and help. If you know someone who is caring in this way, you might like to offer to sit with the husband or wife to give them a little time to themselves. Interestingly, they probably won’t take a ‘Hot Chocolate’ moment, but get on with their normal jobs, like ironing or vacuuming! It’s the pleasure of the familiar routine. This doesn’t matter – the choice is theirs. A wife I met whose husband has dementia says she likes to go into the garden and pull some weeds or deadhead the flower bushes.
And be sure to ask how the caregiver is feeling! It goes without saying that they won’t see themselves as a ‘caregiver’ but simply a husband or wife or adult child or brother or sister who is doing their best in an unexpected role.
It doesn’t take a lot to ask, “how are you?”. And sitting for half an hour, or even an hour won’t take all that much out of your life, but will contribute hugely to theirs.
After a marathon debate lasting over 24 hours, the Lower House of the Government in Victoria, Australia, passed legislation that could clear the way to Voluntary Assisted Suicide in the country. The bill needs to go to the Upper House. If it gets through the Upper House, terminally ill people over the age of 18, in severe pain and with only a year to live will be able to access lethal drugs. If passed, the legislation will not come into effect for 18 months to allow for its implementation.
The legislation includes a range of safeguards. Patients would have to make three requests and see specially trained doctors, and coercing someone to seek a medically assisted death would become a crime.[i]
In the UK, the High Court once again rejected a challenge to existing law. Noel Conway, 67, who has motor-neurone disease and breathes with the aid of a ventilator, said that wished to enable doctors to be able to assist him in having a “peaceful and dignified” death. His legal argument was based on his right to his “private life and family life”. However, the judges maintained the current law, ruling that anyone who assists Noel Conway would be committing a crime.[ii]
The case was opposed by the Secretary of State for Justice, with Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.
James Strachan QC said that it was inappropriate for the courts to interfere with Parliament’s legitimate decision on the “sensitive moral, social and ethical issue” raised by the case.
The Care Not Killing Alliance said, in a statement, ‘it was pretty clear that they [the High Court Judges] had put a huge amount of weight on the medical evidence and the evidence from disabled people about how any change couldn’t be controlled and they’d also looked at what had happened in other jurisdictions”.
Heather Blackwell and her husband Ken are long time supporters of our work. Here’s a story she sent us (it’ll be in our next Pilgrims’ Magazine) about God speaking to her father, even in days of dark depression. Heather writes:
‘My father spent fifteen months at Shottermill House, in Haslemere, before his death. My mother survived him by 5 years and passed away there too. Dad had been a pastor and a very active practical man. In his last months he rarely spoke and showed symptoms of dementia alongside prostate cancer. He was morose and obstinate mostly, to mum’s distress. Three weeks before he died my husband and I visited him, for the last time.
‘It was nine o’clock at night when we eventually got there, and dad was in bed. He was suddenly himself, pleased to see us with flashes of humour. Ken asked him if he would like a cup of tea and while he was away, dad and I chatted.
‘He told me he had dreamed of Jerusalem ‘my heavenly home’ He went on to say that in the last months, while he had been silent, God had been speaking to him. I was eager to know! Dad said the Lord had reminded him that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand,’ (Psalm 37: 23, 24, KJV).
‘This brought such comfort to me as I realised that dad had reached some place of acceptance of his losses. We read Psalm 121 and prayed together. In the morning, dad dressed in his suit with a carefully pressed hanky in his top pocket. With mum, we played scrabble and as usual, he won, convincingly. The news went around that Jabez was smiling. Different staff came by to see this rarity!
‘This is my last happy memory of my father and I am so grateful. A day or two later he regressed and didn’t leave his bed again. We were so grateful to know that in that dark time of depression God had been speaking.
Ethnic minorities are better at ‘social care’, and we should learn from them, said Jackie Doyle-Price, the care minister at the Conservative Party Conference recently. (The Times, 4-10-17)She was echoed by Dr Phillip Lee, a GP who is also the justice minister. He told Age UK that British society has become ‘atomised’, and selfish, and ‘quite sick’.*
They both believe that families and neighbours should do more to help their elderly – and that ethnic communities are an example of how it should be done. Hot on the heels of their statements comes a report from Age UK that depression is a huge problem amongst the over 55s, because of a number of issues, including loneliness. The report said that ‘talking therapies’ helped a good deal. Well of course they would! Many people just need someone to talk to.
It’s true that ethnic communities seem to look after their elderly better than we do. (By ‘we’ I mean the collective rest of us.) Last Saturday I was at the Wesleyan Ladies UK retreat with around 60 or so ladies, including a handful who were in their 80s and 90s. It was a huge blessing to see not just the respect, but the depth of affection for the older ladies. It felt so right, so normal, so as it should be. There seems to be a warmth in ethnic communities for their seniors that we seem to have lost in the UK, even here in Wales.
So what’s gone wrong with the rest of us – and how can we put it right?
The care minister thinks that solving the social care crisis would require ‘a culture shift for every individual.’ And the justice minister, Dr Lee, says that, we all need to step up.
Sounds morally right, doesn’t it? But if you listen closely, rather than hearing a real concern for the elderly, you’ll detect the sound of the proverbial brush sweeping the nitty gritty under the carpet. Because being a good neighbour is not the same as providing social care. It’s more than keeping in touch and helping with shopping and building kind relationships.
Social care involves helping with the daily acts of living a frail older person can no longer do – like getting out of bed in the morning, showering, getting dressed and going to the toilet. It often calls for heavy lifting and hoists, something neighbours are not trained to do. And neither are family members.
Here’s something else worth mentioning. Ethnic communities generally have larger families, so the care can be shared by more people, instead of the solitary single carers who are often isolated and desperate for help. A report by Carers UK found that almost a third of long-term carers have not had a day off in five years.
The needs of older people in communities isn’t being overlooked by Christians. They are stepping up to the plate all over the country, and there are growing numbers of churches who are running befriending programmes, with very good effect. (An expert with excellent experience in this will be speaking at a conference we’re currently organising – watch this space!)
Perhaps being overlooked in this flurry is the fact that residential care homes are often the best place for a frail older person. I wrote earlier about the experience of a daughter whose mother developed dementia and who paid an agency to provide domiciliary care. The mother’s dementia worsened, spurred by experiencing 36 different carers over a six month period, some of whom cared so little about getting to know her that they didn’t even know if she preferred tea or coffee. Her daughter found her a place in a care home.
Finding a care home place is getting more and more difficult. ‘Which?’, the consumer group, has published research showing that over a quarter of people looking for a care home place will be unable to find one. Care homes are closing – and the main reason is lack of funding. It costs a lot to train staff and pay them a good wage. At Pilgrims’ Friend Society we appreciate our staff, and we value them more than Dr Lee seems to (see the Telegraph article.)
Jackie Doyle-Price says that older people should be prepared to sell their homes to pay for their care. She doesn’t think ‘it’s fair for the next generation of tax payers to pay for this generation’s long term needs.’ How odd that she doesn’t seem to realise that this generation paid for generations before them, all their working lives! When he took over the presidency of Public Health Institute a few years ago Professor John Ashton said that today’s older generation had been betrayed.
If you are interested in the practical and spiritual aspects of dementia, and are able to come to Garstang on 7th October, do book through our website!
Participants tell us that this workshop is very effective, and is based on a multi-insert dementia information pack that can be taken away for reference. We would love to meet you there!
Usually, I write about older people and the issues that affect them. Today’s blog is slightly different. It’s about mothers – a younger mother and two older mothers, and in a sense for all mothers who’ve found themselves in similar situations. So that you’ll pray for them.
I met the younger Mum near the green Le Creuset shelf in Sainsbury’s. Not the branded Le Creuset, but pots similar in weight and shape. I was looking and wondering how could Le Creuset pots be green? Traditionally, they’re flame coloured. I have one at home that’s brilliant for making stews and bolognese and curries because you can bring it to the bubble and then turn off the heat and it goes on cooking. But I only have the one because it needs a lifting hoist to get it on and off the stove. So, were these really Le Creuset style or were they just shaped like that? I picked up the nearest lid and yes (sacré bleu!) nearly dropped it. They were green Le Creuset style pots alright, on offer at a discount, too.
‘They’ll have to reduce them more than that before they’ll sell,’ said a voice to my right. ‘They’re the wrong colour.’
We began to talk, firstly about the pots and how she uses hers (she makes wonderful lasagne and puts grated carrots in with the meat so the kids will get some vegetables), and why green is the wrong colour. Then, as we turned the corner near the frozen fish she began to tell me how how sad she’d been to find, on returning from years in New Zealand, that people here have changed and aren’t as friendly as they used to be. I was so astonished I could have slipped into the fish cabinet because here in South Wales you only have to smile and you’re into a conversation. But there was a sadness about this lady, whose name is Sally ( I’ve changed a few other facts to protect her identity): the sort of sadness you sense even when the person is laughing.
Long story short – she’d had a tough start to life, but had given her life to Jesus and all went well until she married. Then, she said, ‘My husband took it all away. I just feel empty inside. Just empty.’ Her husband argues that if God existed, children would not die of illness, that He would prevent evils such as the slaughter in Syria, and so on. Sally has three children, a very full life, and her husband has a good job, but she feels empty. (Yes, there is 2 Corinthians 6:14, but how many women do you meet who feel their husband will change once they’re married?)
Of course you feel empty, I explained. Because, as an ancient bishop once prayed, ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.’ God made us in His image, and He is like a magnet to our souls. Ask Him back into your life, I urged. Get an easy to read modern version of the Bible, say, a New Living Translation. Read psalm 139, John 3:16… ‘I could listen to you all day,’ she said. ‘It’s not me – it’s the Holy Spirit drawing you back to Him,’ I told her because, clearly, that’s exactly what He was doing. ‘Come to church on Sunday,’ I added, giving her the church address, ending, ‘I’ll pray for you, Sally. And you, you talk to God.’
Do pray for Sally. We know that God knows exactly who she is. She’s the lady who knows the green Le Creuset pots in Sainsbury’s have to come down in price before they’ll sell. It blesses me that this loving and powerful God, who has numbered every hair on her head, put her next to someone who could talk for the whole of Wales when it comes to knowing Him.
And not forgetting the older mothers. Both are in their early seventies, and loved their ministries for the Lord. One used to delight in cleaning her church and the other (in another, bigger church) used to be a prayer co-ordinator. They’ve both been asked to stand down by their pastors (men in their 30s and 40s) because of their age. Both feel rejected and disenfranchised. Do pray for them and for their pastors, and for others like them.
Is technology, i.e., the internet, smart phones and tablets - good for older people, or not? Transworld Radio is airing a discussion with me, Natalie and Keiron on newsweek, the Saturday before Christmas. But what do you think? Do you know older people who are using it?
Christian providers of respite, residential, nursing and dementia care. Also retirement apartments for assisted living and for extra care housing, and fully equipped houses for missionaries' home leave.
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