Category Archives: The Faith Community

Dementia-Friendly Faith Communities: Let’s Get Started

Faith communities should start to think about creating a culture of acceptance for persons with dementia.

Many faith communities find themselves investing in worship experiences that will attract younger members.  However, it is just as essential to keep older members engaged and attending worship services, including those with dementia.

Faith often plays a vital role in the lives of persons with dementia and their family members.  But, the presence of dementia can greatly interfere with a person’s ability to actively engage in their faith community.

Becoming a dementia-friendly congregation will create an open and welcoming environment for all.  It is an initiative that can be embraced by all members, regardless of age.  Faith communities are stronger when they recognize the value of multi-generational connection and interaction.

Dementia-Friendly Transformation

Church leaders can begin by calling upon professional community resources to educate congregational members about the needs of persons with dementia.

We should dispel notions that people with dementia are incapable of benefitting from worship.  As a result,  persons with dementia can be more easily understood and accepted with compassion and lack of judgment.

Recognizing when someone stops attending is a good first step.  Leaving the house alone as the disease progresses is very overwhelming and leads to isolation. Mobilizing volunteers to reach out and offer transportation could help them hold on to their faith a little longer.

Start with Small Changes

Begin with simple changes to assist persons with dementia to better navigate their way around the church. Therefore, consider forming a group of volunteers, with specialized training, to serve as ambassadors to escort or sit with someone in need.

Create opportunities for purposeful engagement to keep them connected.  Serving as a greeter, wiping down tables after fellowship, or telling a bible story in Sunday school may be a possibility.

Dementia-friendly worship is best when it is inclusive and engaging.  In doing so, we help them stay close to God and honor the mothers and fathers of our faith.

Beth is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a compassionate professional with decades of experience as a Registered Nurse, caregiver, patient advocate, educator, and trainer.  Early in her career, Beth found her passion for working with elderly populations and their caregivers.  Living in the Green Bay/Fox Valley area with her husband, she enjoys driving a ski boat for barefoot or slalom water-skiers, playing board games or creating a new quilt.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare,  she provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving to private and professional caregivers.  She is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

How to Put Caregiver Coping Skills into Practice – Today!

Stress is simply a part of life.  Think about each and every stressor that affects our lives almost daily.  Here are just a few to think about:  traffic, annoying telemarketing calls (what telemarketing calls aren’t annoying?), junk mail, the news, job demands, airline delays (let’s just airports in general), and the list goes on.  Life is complicated, stressful and caregiving is even more so on just about every level.  So instead of talking about eliminating stressors, let’s talk about how caregivers can put coping skills into practice so that falling into the traps of anxiety, depression and more is eliminated or decreased as much as possible.

The reason I call it coping skills is because it’s just that.  We have to learn skills and approach it as such.  Learning new ways of dealing with, reacting to and accepting things all is wrapped up in how we learn to cope with situations that are for the most part out of our control.  When we learn to cope well, we are healthier!  That’s right – stress causes all kinds of negatives, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, overeating, alcohol and drug use, weight gain or loss, and overall it makes you not a nice person to be around.

How we seek and apply solutions to stressful situations or problems that emerge is all about applying coping skills – that is healthy coping skills.  Some coping skills that are not healthy and can perpetuate even greater stress include

  • defensiveness
  • avoidance
  • self-harm
  • passiveness

Believe it or not, we can practice coping skills with our conscious minds.  In other words, we can learn new mechanisms for dealing with what comes our way.  And we can choose how we will react to the stressors in life.

As a champion for you caregivers, I have to be perfectly honest and tell you that I’m giving you advice that I did not always heed myself.  Probably because in the midst of the chaos and stress I was so caught up in it, I chose not to stop long enough and listen to what my body was telling me or what others had to say.  Coping skills have been around for ages, but 20 plus years ago there wasn’t quite as much talk about the health risks of caregivers.  There just weren’t as many of us around.  Now – well – caregivers of aging parents, spouses and other loved ones are EVERYWHERE.

So let me give you some sound advice from the years I have had in helping others walk the caregiving journey.

  • First, learn as much you can about the person you are caring for!  Learn about their illness (thank goodness for google), accompany them to doctor visits and have good questions, bring a notebook and good heavens, keep everything together in a 3-ring binder so you can stay organized.  Realize that as a primary or secondary caregiver, healthcare advocacy and management is a big part of your job, so learn to be curious, ask questions and above all, have your loved one’s best interest at heart.
  • Start now on a daily practice of meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise for stress reduction (whatever that might be for you), and learn breathing techniques for relaxation.  I want to stress proper breathing since you can practice this anywhere and throughout the day.  Proper breathing enhances relaxation, reduces stress and has a lengthy list of long-term health benefits, supporting our nervous system, supports physical, mental and emotional health and well being.  See the Foundations of Yogic Breathing workshop
    for learning new coping skills simply through deep breathing.
  • Don’t be a caregiver martyr.  I apologize for being so blunt, but as a self-confessed martyr myself, I feel the need to share how destructive this can be to yourself and those around you.  The Caregiver Martyr Syndrome sounds like this:  “I’m the ONLY one Mom trusts to take care of her so please don’t even think about stepping in.  I’m fine and can handle it”.  Sorry to say, but no one can be another’s ‘one and only’, especially for someone who needs 24/7 care.  Caregiver Marty syndrome is real and will be the quickest spiral downward to anger, resentment, depression, and goodness knows what else.
  •  Although family dynamics can get very sticky, especially when caring for older adults with chronic illness such as dementia, try your very best to keep the lines of communication open.  We have so many ways to keep families in the know without making individual phone calls every time something comes up, use today’s technology (group texts, emails or even private FB groups) to keep others informed.
  • Learn to ask for help – graciously.   First, you must know what kind of help you would like, and then you need to practice asking for that help in a friendly and kind manner.  Accept that you cannot do it all, and allow others the blessings of helping, which by the way, is very healthy for both the giver and receiver!
  •  By all means, get organized with legal and financial matters that must be tended to.  Believe it or not, when you take care of these things it will lessen your emotional burdens.  Check it off the list and you can move on to meeting other needs of your loved ones.
  • Practice living in the moment and cherish the time you have with your loved one.  Believe it or not, we have the choice as to how we want to spend this time with our loved one.  I would not have traded my time as a caregiver for my parents for anything.  Although the journey was very difficult, it was filled with so many blessings, life lessons, and sweet memories that are the real gems of what we get out of this life.Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute® and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  She is a champion for caregivers around the world, and the creator of internationally recognized Dementia Live® sensitivity and awareness training experience.



A tribute to Dad this Father’s Day – Love, Hope and Lessons Learned

It’s hard to believe that I’ve not had my dad in my life for over 20 years now.  So much of who I am and what I’ve taught to my children came from my dad.  So, it’s appropriate that this blog be a tribute to my dad this Father’s Day.

My dad grew up during the great depression.  He had a difficult childhood filled with chaos and insecurity.  That said, he grew up fast and started working hard at a  young age to help support his family.   I never knew a lot about my father’s life, which told me that it was most likely far more difficult than I ever imagined.

Dad and Mom married and like so many from the greatest generation,  worked hard, saved and wanted more for their children than what they had.  They were partners in life and business and got through the tough times with perseverance and grit.  I grew understanding the value of money and its proper place, frugality and what made life meaningful and important.  Dad treasured his family, valued his many friends, and gave back to his community.  There was never a time in my life when my parents weren’t involved in community organizations that made the world a better place for those around them.

As the youngest of five children, my parents were older than average when I came along, so I journeyed with them in their aging years as a young mother.   At 6’4″, Dad was always larger than life.  A successful entrepreneur,  he was wise in business, a respected leader and certainly a quick-wit with friends and family.  He was from a generation when Dads weren’t overly involved in their children’s lives, nor particularly affectionate, but that was true of my time, so it was pretty normal.

Dad could fix just about anything.  After all, he was the owner of a hardware store.  Rarely if ever did we have the need for plumbers or handyman services.  We had Dad, and if he couldn’t fix it, who could?

Tiny changes starting happening.

One day, I was talking to Mom and she mentioned that Dad had a hard time installing some new blinds.  She said he had all the parts on the table and just couldn’t figure out what to do first.  At the time it really didn’t occur to me that it was anything more than things taking longer to accomplish because he was older.   For goodness sakes, I was in my twenties.  I really wasn’t tuned in to all this aging stuff!

Like so many spouses, she didn’t want to alarm the children.  Although Mom had seen these same changes with her own mother, there was a sense of denial that she was getting quite used to.  So months turned into years, and with each one passing, Dad became less the person we knew.  They didn’t travel anymore like they had enjoyed for so many years;  mom often would drive, and too often we would note that Dad had a far-away look in his eyes.

When Dad was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Mom, was exhausted, frightened and living life on a roller coaster.  Alzheimer’s had robbed the love of her life, our Dad and was taking its toll on our precious Mom.   Decisions had to be made and with that, family dynamics began to change.   It was a very tough road with many winding turns along the way.

Dad lived his last months in a memory care community.  It was much different than the care communities are now.  I’m pretty sure the culture change had not even been invented.  Quality of care just wasn’t there, but we had little to compare it to.  There just were not that many memory care communities and we chose one that was nice and close, so Mom wouldn’t have to drive that far.   We weren’t particularly happy with the care, but I can’t say that we knew what to expect.  Twenty years ago there just wasn’t a lot of education for families, and memory care was something foreign to us.   Dad was very sad.  So sad, that just a few months later he passed away.  Mom was ridden with guilt, but by this time her own health was declining so rapidly, that there was no possible way for her to care of Dad.  It certainly wasn’t what either of them (or any of us) had envisioned for the latter years of his life, but we got through it and learned many things along the way,

I’ve learned that we have the opportunity to love others in new ways.  We used to call Dad our “hot-headed Italian”.  Not the most patient man on the face of the earth,  he also had a difficult time showing emotions, especially with his daughters.  I found it especially touching that in his latter months, I could sit with him and he would embrace my hands and tell me many times how he loved me.  I never doubted that my whole life, but having us being able to share those moments will always stay with me.  We didn’t have to say much, during those visits.  Just being together was a gift to us both.

While Alzheimer’s robbed him and us in so many ways,  he lived until his 84th year.  He always said his life began when he married my Mom.  It was a good life, and they were very blessed in so many ways, none of which they ever took for granted.   I was blessed to have a Dad that taught me so much about life, and in the end, so much about death,  and accepting that life is far from perfect, but that love is what matters.  That we often can’t choose our path but do the best with what we have.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad and thank you for your love and all you taught me.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who care for them.  Pam has devoted the last 10 years to helping family and professional caregivers.  She is the creator of the Dementia Live® sensitivity awareness program that has helped tens of thousands of caregivers worldwide to better understand life with dementia.


Preparing Future Generations for an Aging World

Aging isn’t just for old people – we are all connected. As the world ages at break-neck speed, how well are we preparing future generations to live in an aging world?  Are we treating the very young and very old in our society as bookends simply in place to hold our “middle” years in place?

These are certainly global questions with no easy answers, but for those of us in the aging sphere,  these questions merit deep contemplation.

Researchers have studied the most successful aging societies and found that those who intentionally focus on intergenerational unification are the healthiest.   Certainly, the core of preparing future generations for an aging world must encompass the notion that in order to connect with an aging person, we must first understand them.

What can we do to facilitate understanding and reduce ageism for future generations?  We must educate younger generations.  What happens as we grow old?  Aging changes our senses, our physical abilities, and appearance.  What is most disturbing to young people,  and often what they fear most, are when old people no longer have their cognitive capacities intact.  Because they don’t understand what is happening, their first reaction is often fight or flight.

We are all connected – not just as families, but as neighbors, faith communities, co-workers, and social circles.  As we age, those circles tend to get smaller, and far too often that excludes other generations, and instead of bridging the gap, it widens.  We rob our young people of experiencing the wisdom and love that older generations provide, and we rob our older generation of the joy and playfulness of youth.  No one wins and society becomes increasingly segregated, thus the bookend analogy.

We have opportunities to intentionally change this trajectory by lessening fear,  creating mission-based intergenerational opportunities and allowing young people to experience what it’s like to age, so they gain an early understanding that aging is a part of life.

I love Rosalyn Carter’s quote…”There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”  If we embrace the reality of our aging world in this perspective, does it not make sense to begin early with our children to embrace the journey of aging without fear but with understanding and care?

Let’s do more to bring intergenerational aging education to our communities.  With it, we will all be better citizens and will create a world where bookends don’t exist.

Pam Brandon is President and Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  Pam is the creator of the Dementia Live® program, helping thousands around the world to better understand sensory change and cognitive impairment.