Dementia: hope on a difficult journey

dementiaDementia: hope on a difficult journey
Author: Dr Adrian Treloar
ISBN: 9780852314715
Price: £9.95
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Date: 2016
Publisher: Redemptorist Publications

In her later years, my mother suffered from the progressive condition of vascular dementia until her death. She was looked after for a long time by one of my sisters, who is a psychologist, and the rest of our family provided some weekend relief to my sister. Eventually my mother needed nursing home care and she became resident in one of the few remaining but ever decreasing number of Catholic nursing homes - paid for by the sale of her flat. Two resident priests suffering from dementia, assisted by the nuns, provided morning Mass and one of the nuns led the rosary in the afternoons. On visiting my mother in the nursing home I saw how she remembered all the prayers at Mass, the rosary, and the old hymns, even though she would not remember my visit.

When osteoarthritis made it impossible for me to carry out any sanctuary duties, I concentrated my diaconal ministry on leading regular Word & Communion services at two local nursing homes, one founded by a charity of the Beaconsfield churches. This was as well as visiting the housebound with Word & Communion. In those services, I am assisted by excellent members of our 21 strong SVP, who also take people to Church, hospitals, and GPs, visit those in need, and organise a weekly coffee and company meeting in the parish hall, Christmas lunches and summer visits, etc.

 I do find it rather sad that as a Church we have found it possible to maintain schools that were run by Religious but not care and nursing homes that were also run by Religious. The Jesuits, the Mill Hill Missionaries, and the Sisters of Charity, as well as a few other Religious orders have professionally run homes for their own retired members and others.

This very readable 135 page book, including illustrations, is by a Catholic, experienced old age consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Dr Adrian Treloar, who starts by explaining dementia from a medical viewpoint. He then provides practical advice and guidance for carers of people with dementia and discusses good spiritual care - something that is often overlooked. He discusses the role of the sacraments for those with dementia and Catholic internet resources and prayers. Looking through the lens of the Catholic faith, the author explains that dementia is a social and spiritual illness. Recognising that difficult behaviour can be part of the illness and not the person is important for carers. Dementia is a profound change in life but is also part of the journey towards God.

Based on my experience of looking after my mother at weekends and visiting her in her nursing home, I wish that I had had access to such a book before starting on the difficult journey of her dementia. However the experience of mother's dementia has been very useful experience for me in my diaconal ministry to the elderly - both with and without dementia.

Michael Phelan, Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Northampton

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