Tag: dementia

Spiritual Health in the Face of Dementia

Rich Evans, former Committee on Publication for Arizona

Have you ever ridden into a box canyon? It is difficult to see the way out and the walls threaten to cut one off from all that is normal.

Caring for a loved one challenged with dementia can feel like that. It is wearing. For those who cannot afford help it can be exhausting and frightening. All who provide care in these circumstances, paid or unpaid, need aid themselves.

Dementia is not a specific disease, according to Mayo Clinic. Rather, it “describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning”. The caregivers in such a situation become the providers of necessary daily functioning for those who seem unable.

The Mayo Clinic Staff continues with advice to caregivers in such circumstances: “Providing for a person with dementia is physically and emotionally demanding. Often the primary caregiver is a spouse or other family member. Feelings of anger and guilt, frustration and discouragement, worry, grief, and social isolation are common. If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia: 1) Ask friends or other family members for help when you need it; 2) Take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual health”.

Perhaps focusing on this last point, spiritual health, would help in great measure to meet the physical and emotional needs of anyone caring for those exhibiting dementia. But how does one achieve “spiritual health”?

For me, it includes addressing fears by gaining a sense of God’s infinite love for us.

Unaddressed, fear can block our recognition of needed answers in giving care, it can overwhelm us in apprehension for our own safety, and plummet one into a sense of depression.

But when fear is spiritually overcome the practical impact can be liberating. The perfect example of this was when Christ Jesus, whose fearlessness consistently brought healing, encountered a tragically insane Gadarene man called Legion. Despite this man’s miscreant reputation, self-destructive tendencies, and social isolation, Jesus spoke with him normally and showed his Christly love for one who’d probably never received such restorative attention. That fearless care not only calmed him but cured him permanently.

Could this be possible today? Yes. Even the Mayo report allows, “Some causes of dementia may be reversible”. So, why shouldn’t a caregiver, expressing sufficient spiritual love, not only overcome his or her own fear but extend this sense of God’s love to the one being cared for such that the condition may abate? Over many years in the periodicals of my church there are accounts of various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, being reversed through a spiritual understanding of God’s healing love.

Many in the business of extending care to humanity have found strength in a more divine motivation for doing their work. I find this statement from a seminal writing on the relationship between spirituality and health encouraging: “It is proverbial that Florence Nightingale and other philanthropists engaged in humane labors have been able to undergo without sinking fatigues and exposures which ordinary people could not endure. The explanation lies in the support which they derived from the divine law, rising above the human. The spiritual demand, quelling the material, supplies energy and endurance surpassing all other aids, and forestalls the penalty which our beliefs would attach to our best deeds.” (S cience and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, p. 385)

Filled with love for God and mankind, divine inspiration can lead us out of the box canyon of apprehension, lifting our thoughts above the shadowy dimensions of caregiving, and brightening the way of those in our charge.

This article was published in the Arizona Silver Belt Newspaper, August 5, 2015.

Stop Aging

Rich Evans, former Committee on Publication for Arizona

How often have you asked a child, “How old are you?” It is innocent — like asking a neighbor about the weather. But the message behind the question to the child is an affirmation of a learned habit of focusing on age. That focus develops attitudes and assumptions that take on the aura of reality, when they are but myths.

The thoughts you might carry around about aging are not all supported by experience or data. Some of these common habits of thought about age are simply wrong. When we say that age is just a number, we need to be careful. What does the number represent to us? Is the number loaded with connotations that we have brought to the party?

Anne Tergesen’s article in the Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2014, makes the case as to “Why Everything You Think About Aging May Be Wrong”. For example, many assume that cognitive decline is a necessary part of the aging process. Dementia, more specifically, Alzheimer’s, weren’t part of the everyday conversation a few decades back. Today, by just existing in the media flow, those terms are constants and so is the fear they engender. The impression is that a majority of elders are subject to that condition, and we are advised to be alert to the early signs of its onset. This is incorrect.

It isn’t that these conditions never appear in the elderly but lapsing into these conditions is partly a function of attitude, not just stereotypical expectations of brain function decline. “Over a 38-year period, the decline in memory performance for those ages 60 and over with more negative stereotypes was 30% greater than for those with less negative views, says Becca Levy, an author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the Yale School of Public Health”. So, the lesson seems to be, don’t buy-in to the negative stereotypes of aging.

Also, with respect to the concern about the prevalence of depression in the older members of society, there is actually less evidence of that condition in later life (5.5%) than in earlier (8.9%). The reason is that people with more life experience tend to focus on positive rather than negative emotions, memories and stimuli — tending to see more of the good than the bad in situations.

Finally, it was encouraging to note that those 65 and older scored higher than all other age groups in the following dimensions of overall thriving in life: life purpose, supportive relationships, economic life, sense of community, and having health and energy to get things done.

This statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, written by the woman who started the Christian Science Monitor in her mid-eighties, has been a wonderful inspiration for many in maintaining a barrier to the encroachment of age-based stereotypes: “Time-tables of birth and death are so many conspiracies against manhood and womanhood. Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise.”

So, we need not accept the decline in life outlined by popular presumptions, but rather seek to fulfill our promise, which is always expanding, and stop aging.

Published February 4, 2015 in the Arizona Silver Belt newspaper.