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Dementia and religion: Do’s and don’ts

Here are some basic do’s and don’ts from experts on how congregations and individuals can help and not hurt people with dementia and their caregivers.

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Dementia is the overall term for the memory loss and cognitive impairment that results from diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It progresses as damage to the brain disrupts normal communication between brain cells and, in turn, affects behavior and thinking. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Experts predict that twice as many Americans 65 and older will have the disease by 2040. This story is part of a Religion News Service series on dementia and religion. The rest of the series can be found here.

(RNS) — When a congregant has dementia, what can a house of worship do?

Though each person is different and advice varies depending on an individual’s condition, here are some basic do’s and don’ts from experts on how congregations and individuals can help and not hurt.



  • Visit people in homes, at care facilities
  • Offer respite to caregivers
  • Create support group; connect with local ones
  • Hold a hymn sing; recite traditional prayers
  • Use name tags


  • Don’t exclude (make accommodations instead)
  • Don’t offer traditional service in home setting
  • Don’t give weekend sermon at weekday nursing home visit



  • Treat people with respect
  • Reintroduce yourself
  • Sing; make a playlist of favorite hymns and songs
  • Listen and validate feelings
  • Phone caregivers


  • Don’t ask “Do you remember me?”
  • Don’t be condescending (treat like adults, not children)
  • Don’t try to correct (accept their reality)
  • Don’t ask about recent activities

Sources: Faith United Against Alzheimer’s, RNS research

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These stories are part of a series on science and religion, brought to you with support from the John Templeton Foundation. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. (RNS logo, John Templeton Foundation logo}

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