Sep 06, 2023
How do you minister to individuals with dementia?
You minister with them.
That’s one of the insights expected to be shared later this month at a gathering called “Creating Hope: Confronting Dementia with Meaningful Action,” scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Jacob’s Well Church in Chippewa Falls. The event will provide the statewide kickoff of a push to bring to Wisconsin an innovative, church-based program that offers care both for individuals with dementia and for their caregivers.
The program, Respite for All, uses a straightforward model: four hours of respite for caregivers while a local church hosts their loved ones in a community of others affected by the early to moderate stages of dementia and a group of volunteers drawn from the congregation. The network now has sites in more than half a dozen states.
The economics are favorable for families and congregations, says Executive Director Daphne Johnston, who co-founded what became Respite for All with her former pastor at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Participants pay a $40 daily fee, but no one is turned away. Congregations pay $650 for Respite for All’s video training and donate space. Additional expenses such as the salary of a part-time director will depend on the circumstances of the individual church. Daphne recommends that the respite program operates two days a week.
“We make it fun, we make it easy for both sides,” she says.
“From 10 to 2, it’s full of small group conversations, art projects and service projects,” Daphne says. “You’ve got retired CEOs and professionals, members of the church. They want to serve.” So do those living with dementia, people Respite for All refers to as “friends.”
For instance, Daphne says, participants engage in service projects such as packing supplies for hurricane relief or homeless shelters. And the volunteer staff search continually for jobs that provide purpose for participants, things like serving a meal, greeting people as they arrive, or befriending newcomers.
“There’s always a sense that we can help others, which is very often lost by people living with dementia,” says Susan McFadden, a retired University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh psychology professor and member of First Congregational UCC in Appleton, where her husband, John, is emeritus pastor. She is founder of the Fox Valley Memory Project, which organizes memory cafes and provides other services to individuals living with dementia.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has a network of dementia care specialists across the state whose task is to improve the quality of life for those with the condition who are living at home. The specialists also support caregivers. Still, Susan says, the state needs more respite opportunities.
“There’s plenty of evidence that partners need to know that their partner is being cared for so they can go grocery shopping or take a nap,” she says.
The local church is the perfect home for a respite program.
“In the church we’ve got age-old leveraged networks of people who are service-minded,” Daphne says. “When you’ve got those people, and a church that will give space, you’ve got a sustainable model.”
If you go
What: Creating Hope – Confronting Dementia with Meaningful Action
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 28
Where: Jacob’s Well Church, 989 122nd St., Chippewa Falls
Who should attend: Clergy, lay people, dementia care specialists, patients and their care partners, and anyone interested in the topic.
How much: Free
Details: You’ll learn about Respite for All and how a national movement of faith-based, volunteer-driven, intergenerational programs are working together to build communities of connection for those living with dementia.