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5 Ways to Minister to Someone With Dementia

Since graduating seminary in May 2012 with my Mdiv, a lot has happened in my life. At the top of that list is the return of my father into my life after a long absence. I discovered that Dad has frontal temporal dementia, which is leading to a gradual erosion of his normal, day to day functions, such as dressing himself. In my care for Dad, God has taught me some important lessons. I thought I’d share them with you today:

1. Understand that the person who has a disease is still a person created in the image of God. While my dad’s brain and the rest of his body are dying and he will one day, unless God miraculously heals him, die from his dementia, he is still a person and deserves to be treated with love and value. There have been times when I marveled at my dad’s ability to remember things even from his childhood. While he is dying, he is not dead and thus still has a God-given purpose to know and make known the Gospel. As my dad understands more of his identity in Christ, I’ve observed how God has been working in his life to make him aware of his strengths, weaknesses and limitations.

2. Minister through the tears. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read letters from my dad and broken out in tears. Knowing that your dad or loved one is going to die and what they are going to die from isn’t easy. Thankfully, during the majority of these times my wife has been home which has helped to not only calm me down, but also to bring a measure of comfort knowing she understands what I’m going through. Jesus promised to send the Comforter to minister to us. God uses broken people to deliver the amazing message of the grace of God. Being broken isn’t a sign of weakness, but a mark of spiritual maturity.

3. Be compassionate. My dad struggles with anxiety and has deep fears about his dementia. Recently, my dad told me, “I face deep fears and anxieties from dementia,” and “It is hard to pray, pour these thoughts out to God. It hurts too much.” As I read those words, God filled my heart and mind with compassion and I was able to point Him to Jesus. I noted in my reply letter to him, “Dad, I can’t imagine how hard it is for you, but I do know as you said in your letter that Jesus prayed in the Garden ‘knowing He faced death.’”

I went on to tell my dad, “I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. I don’t know what is going to happen with your dementia, other than I know that it is an awful disease. Here’s the thing though: Our God is amazing and can do above and beyond what we expect. I know His peace passes all understanding and that He is always praying and interceding for His people (you and I, and all of His people) before His throne. When I struggle with anxiety, I rehearse what God has done and is doing in my life.

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Dave Jenkins is a Christian, husband to Sarah, freelance writer, avid golfer and the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries.