Can Forgotten Liturgies Help Dementia Sufferers To Remember?

An old prayer bookPixabay

The Church of England is urging vicars to turn to the familiar words of the old services, hymns and prayers to help make people with dementia feel at home.

As the population ages and people live longer, but often with memory loss due to dementia, older people can be comforted by hearing liturgies and Bible readings that were familiar from their youth.

Many churches have long since abandoned the King James Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in the drive to attract young people and families into the pews.

But these old texts can be among the few things that dementia sufferers have not completely forgotten. 

The Church's Liturgical Commission is starting to plan for dementia-friendly services, according to a report in the Telegraph. 

Bishop of Exeter Robert Atwell told Christian Today: "Journeying alongside those living with dementia is a costly business, but hugely important in our society where dementia is on the increase.

"Many find that the familiar words of worship and the singing of hymns reach into confusion and unlock the gates of memory.

"As a commission we are working in partnership with specialists in this area to encourage good practice and create resources for dementia-friendly services so that sufferers and carers alike can be assured of God's love and compassion."

Sarah Thorpe, dementia support worker for Lichfield diocese, describes in a blog for the Church of England how a service can be made dementia-friendly. 

She cites St Andrew's Church, Aston near Telford. "For people living with dementia, the multi-sensory nature of a church service can be very powerful whether it be the hymns recalled from childhood, the familiarity of the cross or words of the Lord's Prayer," she writes.

Familiar hymns such as Guide me O thou great redeemer can be a help.

"Music is so important, often connecting even when words are fraying at the edges: we have a wonderful resource in our hymns," she says. The service she attended included the Lord's Prayer in its traditional form. "This can connect so deeply – even for people who are making few word-based connections."

One daughter, at a dementia-friendly service she brings her mother to, told her: "It's a real relief to bring mum to a place where people will accept her as she is and I don't have to feel embarrassed."

In the video below, the actress Prunella Scales, who has dementia, and her husband Timothy West talk about their love for the King James Bible.