Alzheimer’s and Spirituality

Spirit can be defined as the animating force traditionally believed to be within living beings; a human being’s essence.  It is the part of the human being association with the mind and feelings as distinguished from the physical body.  Spirituality is not a doctrine.  It is a remembrance.  It is a feeling.  It is the knowledge that you are more than your physical body, that you are an eternally living being.  It is self-exploration, self-realization.  Alzheimer’s disease cannot steal your spirituality.

People who have Alzheimer’s disease, especially those raised in religious households, are uplifted by worship services and pastoral visits. They can often take part in age-old rituals and enjoy hearing favorite hymns and scripture passages.  Some people with the disease may stop attending regular services to avoid social situations they fear or no longer understand, while others find peace and comfort in a place of worship.

Caregivers also have spiritual needs. Caring for a loved one can last for years, leaving them weary, isolated, frustrated and depressed. At the same time, they may grieve the loss of who the person once was.  Spirituality can be a support throughout their caregiving journey and serve as a tremendous source of strength.  Spirituality has been shown to provide the ability to better cope with the task of caregiving, resulting in lower rates of depression and better relationships with their care recipient (Choi et al., 2006).

  • Support and empower the person with Alzheimer’s
  • Engage in short prayers or inspirational stories lasting no more than five minutes
  • Use older translations or scriptures – and encourage interaction; the person may  no longer relate to the newer, international versions
  • Be attuned and flexible to the way the person talks about his or her spirituality
  • Foster an atmosphere of joy, trust and comfort
  • Make connections through music– traditional songs or old hymns might be better received than modern spiritual music with a heavy, pop-music beat
  • Plan short, frequent home visits rather than lengthy ones
  • Use education about Alzheimer’s to break down fears that may exist in the congregation and build compassion for those affected by the disease
  • Encourage the person to take part in services and social events appropriate to his or her abilities, like singing in the choir or attending a congregation dinner
  • Watch a taped service if they can no longer attend in person

Caring Kind of NY offers 3 keys questions to ask in order to nurture spiritual health in both the caregiver and care recipient:

  1. Do you have things you need to do? Unfinished business?  People you need to talk to?
  2. What bothers or upsets you about your present situation?
  3. What comforts you when you feel afraid? Religious practices?  Scripture reading?  Music?  Other writings?




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