Dementia-friendly ways to worship

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Alex Treitler, organization director for spiritual care at AugustanaCare
Alex Treitler, organization director for spiritual care at AugustanaCare

After chaplain Alex Treitler began leading services for people with dementia, he quickly realized things weren't going well. He says those with dementia found it hard to engage with the “traditional Lutheran communion service model”— and so Treitler, the organization director for spiritual care at AugustanaCare, went to work.

Starting in 2012, he began leading innovative worship services at Emerald Crest, a Minneapolis-area AugustanaCare facility. 

These 15- to 30-minute services emphasize sensory stimulation. Rather than reading a Bible story, Treitler might act it out. He recently donned colorful scarves for the story of Joseph, his coat and his jealous brothers. His sermon engaged the residents; he says he asked if they ever fought with their siblings, and if they forgave each other.

Singing familiar hymns and reciting common prayers also is important. Many residents still can sing along or mouth the words, “even if their expressive ability is very compromised,” Treitler says. 

Residents are more alert and active during the services, which provide an opportunity for bonding with family members, according to cognitive clinical specialist Theresa Klein. She says one woman told her, “My mom and I can't really talk anymore, but we can share this experience.”

AugustanaCare is considering expanding the program, Klein says.



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