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Connect and engage through dementia specific church service

Back in 2014 Seniors Chaplain Wayne Crouch with Churches of Christ in Queensland was looking for ways to engage the older people living with dementia who attended his church services.
Seniors Chaplain Wayne Crouch has developed a dementia specific church service for people with dementia living in aged care
Seniors Chaplain Wayne Crouch has developed a dementia specific church service for people with dementia living in aged care

Those attending regular church services appeared disengaged and didn’t participate.

“I noticed the people with dementia weren’t really connecting emotionally and spiritually with the church service,” Mr Crouch says.

In response he developed a dementia specific church service for people with dementia living in aged care, encouraging them to actively participate and enable them to talk and connect with others.

Seniors Chaplain Crouch now holds a weekly church service at the Churches of Christ in Queensland (CoCQLD) aged care facility in Mitchelton.

“The essence is to really connect with the people, to make them feel like they belong and are welcome. To do that we make the service very personal and slow everything down,” he says.

“I personally go around to each person and make eye contact, I welcome each person, and wait for their response.”

Mr Crouch explains that he uses the surroundings to prepare people for the church service. “We use a lot of church icons like candles and a cross, and play hymns as people walk in so they know that they are at a church service.

“Because I know the residents personally I can use their personal history and strengths in the service. Some residents help read scripture or with saying a prayer.

“When reading scripture I only read a verse, which I’ll start, then pause and wait if people join in and help complete the verse.”

Through questions and real life stories or situations the residents can relate to, Mr Crouch engages with people and gets verbal or non-verbal responses.

“Religion and faith has been part of some peoples lives for years and they can be cues to help their memory. Icons like a cross, singing or a verse can help trigger their memory and help them participate and contribute,” Mr Crouch says.

Not everyone actively participates in the service and sometimes the connection is subtle. “I’ll make sure to make eye contact when I’m singing and I will use their names. Some people will just smile back at me.

“It helps them feel like they belong. They are still a person but they don’t really connect if you don’t slow it down and make them feel like they’re part of it,” according to Mr Crouch.

The dementia specific church service initiative has made a positive difference to residents but also to staff and volunteers who notice the change in residents.

After the success of the pilot program of the dementia specific church service at the Mitchelton residence Churches of Christ in Queensland created a booklet ‘Dementia-Specific Christian Worship Service Handbook’.

Peak body Pastoral & Spiritual Care of Older People (PASCOP) awarded the initiative with a Quality Practice Award last year and has invited Seniors Chaplain Crouch to speak at its Meaningful Ageing seminar in Brisbane next week.

Other speakers at the seminar include Clinical Practice Development facilitator for CoCQLD, Dr Judy McCrow, who will speak about the Positive Wellbeing model used by CoCQLD, which the dementia specific church service initiative is part of.

Rev Heather Allison, Director of Mission at Bluecare speaks about responding to existential crisis in older people and the role of the care team in supporting that person, and PASCOP - Meaningful Ageing chief executive officer Ilsa Hampton will speak about engaging, inspiring and maintaining pastoral care volunteers.

The Dementia-Specific Christian Worship Service Handbook is a guide for staff, volunteers and visiting clergy and has been published by PASCOP - Meaningful Ageing. The handbook is available to PASCOP members at no extra charge, or available for purchase by non-members. Contact PASCOP for your copy.

The PASCOP Meaningful Ageing seminar is held at the Churches of Christ in Queensland Mitchelton Campus on Thursday 28 April from 9am – 12.30pm. For more information contact PASCOP on 03 8387 2274, send an email or register online.

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