Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
For me, the year starts on Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday, when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Even though the calendar says it’s the fourth month of the year, and the date may not be exact, it’s the day when life began – could begin – because of what Jesus did on the Cross. And the amazing thing is that, as if that weren’t enough, He wraps us around and within with Himself. Looking through some files today I came across the introduction to ‘Worshipping with Dementia’, that describes it well. I’d forgotten it, and reading it blessed me – and I hope it blesses you, too.
‘Some years ago a friend called Robert was learning to play the flute. Elizabeth, a professional flautist, came to stay with me and Robert brought his flute around one afternoon, hoping for some tips.Towards the end of his impromptu lesson Elizabeth suggested they played a simple tune together. I have never heard anything like it.
‘Robert played what sounded like “chopsticks” for Piccolo. Elizabeth listened for a minute or so then she lifted her instrument to her lips and began to play, lilting dancing notes that emerged like the rippling of a fine silk scarf in a faint breeze.
‘It was an amazing counterpoint to “chopsticks”, making it sound altogether wonderful. Imagine a rough, wooden stick being loosely wrapped in the finest, transparent silk; it was like that.
‘According to the online Free Dictionary, counterpoint is: ‘The technique of combining two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.’
It’s exactly what God does with His people. The psalmist wrote, “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” (Psalm 119:54, NKJV). In other words, God’s laws had been the counterpoint to the whole of the psalmist’s life. It can be like this with many older Christians: when they talk, you hear notes of compassion, gentleness, and wisdom.
Blessed New Life in Christ!
‘Treat everyone with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect whether you think they understand or not: never underestimate the power of the mind, the importance of love and faith, and to never stop dreaming.’
This is the message that a young man who lived for ten years ‘trapped’ in an unresponsive body has for the world. Martin Pistorius fell seriously ill at the age of twelve and lost control of his body. His parents were told that he had no awareness of the world around him. For ten years, he “lived in torture”, unable to communicate, as he grew up with everyone around him assuming he was brain-dead. Then, a physical therapist saw ‘a glimmer in his eye’, and knew that there was someone in there. Tests showed that Martin could, in fact, communicate, and it turned out to be a turning point in his life. He learnt to talk with a computer-aided device, learnt to drive, went to college, and met and married the ‘love of his life’. He’s even written a book called, ‘Ghost Boy’.
Having dementia is not the same illness that Martin had, but they share a common truth – the person is in there, no matter how devastatingly they seem to have changed.
The person with dementia will not recover as fully as Martin did, this side of Heaven, but there are accounts of how the person within has been reached and responded, in all of my books. See them on www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk. And in a book due to be published in November, Dr Jennifer Bute, who was diagnosed with dementia ten years ago, describes ways of reaching the person inside, and communicating with them.
You can see the TV interview at: https://faithit.com/ghost-boy-trapped-inside-body-10-years-escapes-now-message-world/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=title&utm_campaign=faithit20180319&maropost_id=728733119
Knitters do much more than turnout socks and sweaters and baby cardigans! They are also lowering their blood pressure, avoiding or reducing depression, and even slowing the onset of dementia according to research done by the organisation ‘Knit for Peace[i]. So many of their donors told of the benefits of knitting that they decided to investigate. Their findings were so positive that ‘Knit for Peace’ concluded that if more people knitted, the NHS need spend less on blood pressure treatments, antidepressants and pain killers – and that’s just for starters. Knitting could be a cheap and effective way to fight a host of age -related conditions. With the growing crisis in primary care and with GP services, perhaps now is the time to for GPs to prescribe knitting. The report suggests that knitting be taught in schools.
Knitting is as relaxing as yoga, distracts from chronic pain (such as arthritis), boosts well-being, brings down blood pressure and helps keep the mind sharp. It lowers heart rate by an average 11 bpm, and induces an enhanced state of calm. It helps chronic pain by switching off alarm signals in the brain, because the focus is turned elsewhere. It also boasts the production of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter which lifts mood and dulls pain.
Knitting can also give a sense of purpose. You may remember the vengeful Madame Defarge in the Tale of Two Cities, whose opening chapters show her quietly knitting a scarf. What she was really doing was knitting a list of enemies.
The story is much different for one of our residents. Sally (name changed) came into one of our homes expected to live only for a further few months. She was completely bedridden and would tell friends and carers that she wanted to find a purpose in her life. A friend suggested knitting, and brought in some wool and needles. From that moment there was no stopping Sally! She knitted blankets for children’s homes in Romania, ‘cakes’ and flowers for the homes ‘treasure boxes’, and poppies for the Poppy appeal. Visitors were ‘invited’ to buy a poppy, and no one could resist! She received a letter of thanks for raising £70 for the British Legion, and photographs of the blankets being used in the children’s home in Romania. She lived over a year longer than had been expected, and to the very end she had joy in her knitting, and a sense of achievement and purpose.
Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. It takes hundreds of little stitches to make a garment or blanket, but brings joy to people who use them. And it could be doing the knitter a whole heap of good, too!
They’d been married for fifty-eight years, and throughout all those years, Mrs Anne Limbert did the driving. Her husband, Keith, had some driving lessons in his 20s, but never took his test. It seemed to work out well, and they got used to it. He said that it meant that when they went out, he could have a drink or two. “I was chauffeur driven, to be honest.”
But when Anne, (also 79) had a stroke, and developed breast cancer, he realised he had to become the chauffeur. So he took driving lessons, and after two failed attempts, finally passed his driving test.
Now, as well as driving to hospital appointments, they can treat themselves to simple pleasures. She said, “I think he’s done brilliantly. We go to garden centres mostly, and I have a scone.”
It’s never too late!
Read the story here – https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/917964/retired-driving-lessons-attempts-stroke-effects-elderly
This morning on Radio Four, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks commented on a study showing that just one hour a week of social interaction helps people with dementia. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a philosopher, theologian, author and politician: it’s as a politician he shone this morning. Ever mindful to promote all things Jewish, he mentioned the man who invented Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Aaron Becks, now aged ninety-six. CBT is known to be the most effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety and depression, conditions which are common among people with dementia, and visiting Becks recently, Rabbi Sacks asked him if CBT could help people with dementia. Becks replied that, at first he hadn’t thought so, but evidence is mounting that it does indeed, help. If I had his email I would write to him and say of course it does, because CBT is uncannily aligned with Scriptural principles which, as far as human beings are concerned, are as irrefutable as the law of physics – perhaps more so.
Commenting on the research, Rabbi Sacks said that the Psalms spoke of the importance of people spending time with each other. In the New Testament Jesus takes it even further, with His second most important commandment to love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:31).
The University of Exeter trial involved more than 800 people with dementia in sixty-nine care homes in England. It found that spending more time communicating with residents could boost older people’s well-being, when combined with personal care. ‘As well as improving quality of life, the programme reduced levels of agitation and aggression.’ [i]
Sometimes I wonder if researchers live in their own separate silos. It’s been known for some time that social interaction, which really means people listening and talking with people, has a more profound effect on brain health than computer training programs. One research leader said that the brains of people in conversation light up like Christmas trees.
The leader of the study in question today, Professor Clive Ballard, reported that the average amount of social interaction for people with dementia in care homes was just two minutes a day. “It’s hardly surprising when that has a knock-on effect on quality of life and agitation. Our approach improves care and saves money.”
Just ‘two minutes a day’? For the life of me I can’t see how anyone caring for someone with dementia could spend just two minutes a day with them. One wife told me that helping her husband get up in the morning and get dressed took nearly an hour. In our care homes I’ve seen how helping someone with dementia to eat takes far longer, and our carers chat at the same time.
Saves money? Recently our care homes adopted an enhanced dementia care approach. We’ve called it ‘Hummingbird ’ because carers have frequent little conversations throughout the day. It’s personalised to each individual, as carers learn about each one’s personal interests, so they can talk about things that are most likely to engage them. It means that residents get far, far more than an hour a week of social interaction! Carers also learn about their faith background, so they can encourage appropriately with ‘a word in season’. All in a calm, family atmosphere.
It’s meant stepping out in faith because of the extra costs involved. It’s meant additional training and taking on extra staff at a time when recruitment in the care sector is at its most difficult. But the bottom line is worth it.
This is for seniors, and for people who will be seniors one day. It’s to show their special place in God’s thinking, and how we can be making the most of them – and of ourselves! Do come if you’re able.
Music is a powerful, but underused tool for people with dementia, says an article in today’s Care Home News. The article mentions a Commission on Dementia and Music, set up by the Longevity Centre in Oxford, which found that music reduces agitation, stress and a range of psychological and physical behaviours. The Commission would like to see music used more widely in the NHS.
It’s interesting when secular wisdom catches up with what’s been written in the Scriptures for centuries, although it usually catches up only in part. The old Testament in particular sparkles with worship songs and psalms of praise. Jehoshaphat put the musicians in front of the army as they went into battle (2 Chronicles: 20) and they won! I’ve often wondered what the musicians felt about it and what it meant to the opposing army!
It was a battle won by singing. And we see something like this in our care homes, when residents who have dementia respond to the familiar worship. There’s a kind of breakthrough when the Holy Spirit touches their spirits. One manager described watching a resident who normally didn’t speak much, singing with her face raised in joy. When he mentioned the hymn to her afterwards she couldn’t remember it. The responses are so powerful that another manager has said she can’t understand how people can say there is no God.
There’s a touching clip on YouTube, showing an elderly man who hadn’t spoken for over two years, coming alive as he responded to music. The carer describes how she chose music about God because they knew he’d read the Bible before he became ill. And it worked beautifully! The man explaining what’s happened, in this clip, is (the late) neurologist Oliver Sacks, famous for his eloquent books about neurological conditions, in fact he is known as the ‘poet Laureate of neurology.’ He talks about music being the “quickening art”, and he’s right, although he’s missed something important – if you listen to the old man you’ll hear how the music brought God to him again, and how ‘God is love.’
You can watch the clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKDXuCE7LeQ
In the book, ‘Dementia: Frank and Linda’s story’ you can read how Frank was blessed and calmed by the music CDs Linda played for him during the day.
Shakespeare wrote, ‘if music be the food of love …’ When it’s worship, music is so powerful that itbreaks through the limited cognition and go straight to the spirit of the person. It’s what the Psalmist called ‘deep calling to deep.’
A new report to Parliament by MP Frank Field shows that as many as 1 million older people are starving in their homes because of loneliness and isolation. (The Times, 22-01-18).
The report quotes a woman in her 80s whose husband went into a care home with dementia. The district nurse who’d been visiting her husband to help with food stopped coming, and with no one else visiting, the woman did not eat a proper meal for nine weeks. She went unnoticed until a neighbour came two months later. Among others, the report mentions a man in his 90s who was banned from his local supermarket because he fell twice and was an insurance risk – so he was unable to buy food.
Mr Field said that some malnourished older people entered hospital weighing 5 ½ stone, with an infection, or following a fall which kept them there for several days, if not weeks.
The report follows an announcement that the government is appointing a Minister to tackle loneliness, recommended by the Jo Cox campaign. Around 9 million people in the UK, mainly elderly and disabled adults, live very solitary, lonely lives.
Ten years ago, Meals on Wheels used to help around 155,000 people. For many this was their only point of contact with another human being. The services were mainly run by volunteers who were also befrienders, keeping an informal eye on frail older people. Today only 29,000 people receive Meals on Wheels – because of lack of funds. Yet spotting a problem early can prevent many elderly ending up in A&E, experts say.
So it’s hats off to the churches that are working hard to reach the lonely in their communities. They organise a whole range of activities, such as lunch clubs and afternoon activities of all types – anything that meets the need. All paid for by church members and run by volunteers who are often retired and older themselves.
In March, at our conference in March at Romford Baptist Church, one of the speakers will describe an effective community outreach program run by churches working together in the North. It’s seen to be doing such a good job that it’s attracting more volunteers and engagement with social services and the local police, who refer people who need befriending. It’s also attracted some charitable funding.
Wouldn’t the new Minister for Loneliness be wise to consider allocating funds to churches already doing such valuable work?
Like several other companies, Pfizer has invested heavily in developing treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s because of the potential benefits, but were disappointed when they failed to work during testing.
In 2012, Pfizer and partner Johnson & Johnson halted development of an Alzheimer’s drug called bapineuzumab after it failed to slow memory loss in test subjects. And in 2017 Eli Lilley’s drug, solenazumab, failed to produce results in a trial of 2,000 patients in the UK, despite earlier reports of success in a smaller clinical trial. Other companies, such as AstraZeneca PLC, Biogen Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co., keep pursuing Alzheimer’s treatment, but analysts consider the projects very risky.
For 20 years pharmaceutical development for Alzheimer’s disease has largely focused on removing the protein deposits in the brain thought to be responsible for causing neurological damage leading to dementia. In May last year it was announced that a new Dementia Research Institute would be set up in University College London and in three other research centres, headed by Dutch neuroscientist, Bart de Strooper, who was directing researchers to examine the role of inflammation and the brain’s immune system.
But there is good news. The incidence of dementia, that is the rate of new cases, has dropped by 20% in the last two decades in the UK and other developed countries. The decrease has been due to healthier lifestyles, including stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake to moderate, having a good diet, regular exercise and maintaining good social connections.
Often good things start in small ways. In my local paper today is a headline, ‘Youf Gang makes a big difference in community.’ It’s the first of a new series of monthly columns written by this particular Youf Gang. *
‘Hello, my name is Mohammed, and I am the chairman of the … Youf Gang,’ it begins. It goes on to describe how the gang helps the community with litter picking, doing things in the park and holding events to bring the community together. They’ve also held fundraising events and raffles to raise money for the group. They plan these events at regular meetings, where, most of the time, parents attend. They’ve also been taken on trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and to Buckingham Palace. There are 10 members and a supervisor, who works in Gwent Police. Smalll beginnings, but with big potential.
What a fabulous initiative! Whoever thought it up deserves an MBE. I loved the way the report begins with, ‘My name is Mohammed…’
I’m going to write and suggest that the youngsters could also get involved in visiting isolated older people in the community, and perhaps in local care homes. And pray that this initiative doesn’t fizzle out, as so many do, because of lack of funding. Last year the activities coordinator of a local care home noticed how residents’ moods improved when youngsters came in, with a depressed, elderly man coming right out of his shell, so she persuaded a nearby children’s nursery to arrange regular visits. But it meant the nursery had to employ someone extra to help. The care home appealed to some regional charities and raised enough cash, to keep it going for a while at least.
The best ideas usually come from people on the ground, those who are where the rubber hits the road so to speak, but raising money is tough these days. If we didn’t know the God of infinite resources we would despair at times. The closing verses of Chapter 3 in Ephesians lift our spirits:
‘Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.’
More than we can ask or think! Glory! The next verse says it well: ‘Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.’
Do pray for Mohammed’s Youf Gang, and for more funding for all good works like this, including care homes – and not forgetting us at Pilgrims’ Friend Society.
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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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