Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
‘When arranging visits to my grandmother, finding time is a great problem,’ wrote a contributor to the Letters page of a national newspaper. ‘With so many social engagements and things to do it’s very difficult for her to find space in her diary.’ She is typical of people who are living full lives into their 90s and 100s, while many are contributing actively to the their churches’ work, including helping those who are less able, what areever their age.
‘God’s purpose in later life,’ was the theme of our Annual Conference 2018, and All Nations’ Centre in Leicester was packed with people of all ages keen to explore it. Keynote speaker was evangelist Roger Carswell, who spoke on encouraging older people to reach others and the usefulness of Tracts, while author and speaker Revd Roger Hitchings, showed how keeping active in God’s service is a biblical means of enriching later years: that godly activity enhances individuals’ spiritual lives. Revd Ian Knox described practical ways of sharing the gospel with older people, and Rob Rolls, of the Salvation Army, shared examples of successful mission and discipleship of older people.
Cognitive behavioural therapist and author, Louise Morse, said the key to understanding seniors’ purpose in later life is in Ephesians 2:10, which describes how God has given specific talents for ‘good works’, but many older people’s expectations have been lowered by ageism. Louise also examined the causes of loneliness and how churches can help, beginning with those in our own church fellowships.
Dr Jennifer Bute, FRCGP, who was diagnosed with dementia 10 years ago said that ‘If we embrace what God has given us, He can do great things,’ and described having dementia as a ’glorious opportunity’, one where, with her medical background, she can help others understand it and live with it better. Dr Bute also spoke on finding joy and peace in tough places, showing how the Scriptures help us through all our circumstances, whatever they are.
There was encouragement for carers, with Dr Sarah Jones, a former consultant in medicine for older people who retired early to take care of the husband’s elderly mother. She showed how believers can encourage others in a caring role.
The centre point of the conference was PFS’s Annual Meeting, which was an opportunity for supporters to hear about our work over the past year, and our plans looking ahead. It’s often said that PFS conferences are always more than the sum of their parts. It was certainly true this year where, as well as benefiting from individual sessions, everyone enjoyed others’ friendship and fellowship. One person told us that his group had enjoyed last year’s conference so much they decided to come again this year, and were not disappointed! Another said: “All excellent and informative speakers. Also, very good to chat to other delegates. A very inspirational day!” ENDS
When we hear of disasters they are sometimes on a scale so large that our minds can’t grasp them. Yet now and then you hear a small thing, something simple and so intensely human that it takes you right into the centre of it.
That’s how it was listening to a radio programme about food and Syrian refugees on one of the Greek islands. The women talked about the meals they used to make at home; who they’d cooked for and the ingredients they’d used. Now they tried to cook meals that they were used to before their homes were bombed out of existence, and the whole community came together to make it possible. Some enterprising refugees had set up projects with Greek farms and brought fresh vegetables into the camp.
When they arrive refugees first live in tents, and later move into converted containers. One man had opened up a wall in his container and turned it into a café; a gathering place where they shared familiar meals.
Hearing these men and women talk about something that is so every-day in my own life made them real to me. They moved from a two-dimensional story into the real world, in which I also live.
It made me realise, too, how important food is for our psychological, as well as our physical well-being, and the part it plays in our social lives. I’ve just written an article for our Pilgrims’ Magazine, describing how churches are reaching lonely older people in their communities. Food is often at the centre of the activities they offer; if not at the centre it’s on the side, on the countertop with the familiar tea and biscuit. A cafe in a church in Manchester has been revitalised by a retired doctor who happens to be a super cook, and is drawing in people who are not interested in church, though some have become interested come to find out more…
In Yorkshire, our retired living complex has a rather good dining room and the manager, Vicky, decided to open a Friendship Café. She said, ‘The idea is for people to come and have a cuppa and a chat, and whilst here should they have any problems we can signpost them to someone who may be able to help. Residents have been invited to come and have a cuppa and chat too, to encourage one another and to be there to talk to new people coming into the building.’ (This story is also in the Pilgrims’ Magazine.)
Without a doubt, food is more than food – it’s a love language.
Unless you’ve been living in a really remote village somewhere, you will have heard of GDPR. It’s a new regulation that says we have to show that everything we send to people has been requested by them.
It reminds me of the character in Dad’s Army who used to say, hopefully, “Permission to speak, Sir” to Captain Mainwaring.
What we need now is confirmation from you that we do, indeed, have your permission to send.
At the same time, can we say thank you to those who have responded with comments to different blogs, with thoughts and ideas as well as with ‘thank you’.
Coming soon is a blog on how scientists are analysing the ‘Super Agers’, who live to a ripe old age with the brainpower of people 30 years their younger. And no, they are not the healthy-living, exercise-oriented, diet-controlled, low-blood pressure types you may imagine. But they do have several traits in common, which we can all adopt. More to follow!
Had you been in the centre of Birmingham today, you would have seen a crowd of people wearing yellow T-shirts surrounding a huge block of ice with a slogan inside it, and two head sized holes. The slogan said, ‘Permission to Smile’, and the head sized holes were for people to peer through with a big smile and be photographed for Permission to Smile’s social media.
At the heart of the movement is an interactive website, http://permissiontosmile.org/ Register, and the map will focus on your postcode, putting a pin in the map, with a quarter-mile radius view. You can click on any other pins visible and start a chat group.
The Permission to Smile website also includes “How-to’ downloads on arranging a gathering for different purposes, including older people, and more. It also includes an on-line ‘Meeting Point’, based on Google Maps, allowing community-minded people to find each other.
The campaign was started by the directors of charity ‘Street Associations’, Martin and Gina Graham, whose work has helped transform areas of Birmingham by bringing together neighbours and forming Street associations in low income neighbourhoods. It’s made a huge difference to the lives of people in these areas. You can read more here: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tsrc/documents/tsrc/reports/street-associations-final-evaluation-report-april-2015.pdf)
The Grahams’ experience showed much social isolation was due to a major barrier, that stopped local communities coming together. It had become ‘inappropriate’ to greet or even smile at people you don’t know, and one in eight people didn’t know the names of their neighbours. Martin Graham said, ‘Our mission is to turn this around, we want to unite communities, encouraging them to get together, and reduce social isolation. Therefore, we introduced the social campaign, Permission to Smile.’
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.
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.
We share our experience and knowledge at seminars and conferences, at national and regional level.