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Dealing with Dementia - A list of Do´s and Don´ts in the light of Christ

I have always been a To Do list kind of person. I found that it makes things easier for me; just the fact that I am able to catalog what is needed is useful to me. And as I grow older, I found myself making lists of a more abstract and varied nature, such as wisdom tidbits, and they help me just the same. Recently, I was researching some information on-line about a difficult topic and I found a terrific list from Lyz Ayres “Compassionate Communication With the Memory Impaired”. This list of Do´s and Don´ts touched me so much that I copied it and then tweaked it again and again. I kept coming back to it as I was pondering it in the light of the Works of Mercy and the Beatitudes. This is my own version of Do´s and Don´ts in the light of Christ when dealing with family & friends with Alzheimer, dementia or any other memory loss or cognitive problem:


1. Don’t reason or argue, aim for simplicity, patience and kindness for “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

2. Don’t yell and don’t confront! You are not there to scare them into shape, this is absolutely not the time for what has been called tough love.

3. Don’t ask too many questions (what did you have for lunch?) remember that routine questions for us can be frustrating for them; who wants to be quizzed when they thought you were just here to hug them. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.

4. Don’t YOU be obstinate about making them do something, wait 5 minutes, then try again, exercise your own flexibility - which is another word for meekness…

5. Don’t indulge in a negative interior conversation (“this is crazy, this is getting worse”) it will only weaken you and make YOU feel bad, it is a misdirected use of energy.

6. Don’t become fixated on the pessimistic angle of the circumstances, find the funny ones, the quirky ones, detach yourself from the situation, imagine it as a movie, a sort of epic/comic drama...

7. Don’t forget to appreciate and be thankful for the shared moments of calm and comfort, for any blessings of joy and tenderness.

    But do:

1. Do give short explanations, allow time for comprehension and then some more. Remember “To clothe the naked” : elderly people are so vulnerable that they are “naked” in front of us and we should “cloth” them with a mantle of trust and love.

2. Do accept the repeated questions; accept and acquiesce for “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy”.

3. When needed, distract them to a different activity; think of it as “Visiting the ones in prison”; they are in the prison of their infirmities, they are stuck with the ignominies of sickness and old age, your visit should be a break for them.

4. Do treat them with dignity, Don’t speak to them like a child or, even worse, as if they were not there. We all want R E S P E C T.

5. Accept the blame when something is wrong, even if it is a misinterpretation; take it as a blessing that you can carry this small cross for them “Bear wrongs patiently” .

6. Be patient and kind, supportive and reassuring (remember that is what you would want if you were in their shoes).

7. And the best advice yet: practice 110% forgiveness! Jesus said “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” This forgiveness should be directed towards them as much as it should be towards ourselves, for the moments when we failed them. Forgive, forget and try again.

It is very appropriate to reflect on this since we all live longer (which is good) and since there are more and more of us displaying cognitive problems (which is not so good). But this reality goes to the heart of the Christian life: taking care of others, making them as comfortable as possible, helping them enjoy the little things of life, one laugh and one hug at a time. It is a challenge and this is why I make such simple practical To Do list, I am the first one to need them! And because, under pressure, I might not be able to see the whole picture of a life of charity but I can certainly concentrate on one good deed at a time and ask if they want a glass of water and remember to smile…

May God bless us all,
the weak and the strong,
the ones with a special need and
the ones with the ability and willingness to care for them

References: The Beatitudes and The Works of Mercy

The Beatitudes are the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-10); if we live according to them, we will find happiness, fulfilling God’s promises made to Abraham and his descendants and describing the rewards that will be ours as loyal followers of Christ. It is a general ethical line to follow wherever we live and whatever we do.

The two lists of the works of Mercy are the very applicable actions - and thoughts and intents - to follow daily as Christ told us in the Beatitudes. These works, these actions evolved from the very beginning of the Church, as is found in Scripture, in the letters of Saint Paul or Saint James, and as it is found in the writings of the Church Fathers. A description of the Works of Mercy is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2447): "The works of mercy are the charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities". All the Saints and Martyrs are wonderful examples of someone having followed Christ to the very end, embracing and developing one or more charisms along the way, all through the grace of God: parenting, teaching, healing, serving, feeding, sheltering, protecting, witnessing, counseling, advising, praying, interceding, sharing…

Whether it is in creating art or managing a day care, working in maintenance or in medical research, there is no work too small or too grand when it is done for the glory of God! This orientation is applicable to any “new job" which can always be done with the works of mercy in mind: coding or influencing, personal coaching or cloud engineering, mentoring immigrants or working in a rehab facility. The ways of the world are very often quite contrary to the Sermon on the Mount, but the challenge to follow Christ has its own reward, not only for eternal life (which is a big deal, a very long deal!) but for today’s life, which is why it is called the abundant life, the way of the truth, the most exhilarating journey…

Taking care of an elderly and feeble person fulfills these ethical guidelines which is what I tried to outline in my own list of Do’s and Don’ts above.

The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger
    and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean in heart,
    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Spiritual Works of Mercy

Corporal Works of Mercy

THE 7 SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY are oriented toward the soul. Though ideally applicable for all faithful, not everyone is considered capable or obligated to perform the first three Spiritual Works of Mercy before they possess the proper tact, knowledge or canonical training to do so. The remaining four Spiritual Works of Mercy are considered to be an obligation of all faithful to practice unconditionally.

  1. Admonish the Sinner

  2. Instruct the Ignorant

  3. Counsel the Doubtful

  4. Bear Wrongs Patiently

  5. Forgive Offenses Willingly

  6. Comfort the Afflicted

  7. Pray for the Living and the Dead

THE 7 CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY are oriented toward the body. Six of the seven are mentioned in Matthew 25:31-40 - although not precisely - as the reason for the salvation of the saved, while Matthew 25:41-46 exhorts the omission of them as the reason for damnation. As deprivation of burial was viewed with horror by the Jews, the seventh Corporal Work of Mercy (Tobit 1:17-19) was later added.

  1. Feed the Hungry

  2. Give Drink to the Thirsty

  3. Clothe the Naked

  4. Shelter the Homeless

  5. Visit the Sick

  6. Visit the Imprisoned

  7. Bury the Dead


    List of articles in TRIBUTE TO MOTHER :
  1. An introduction, How and Why   (Autumn 2011)

  2. Kindness, anyone?  (Autumn 2011)

  3. Little snapshots of our journey  (2012, 2013)

  4. A French lullaby « Aux marches du palais»  (Summer 2013

  5. Musings on life and the weather  (Autumn 2013)

  6. Dos and Donts when dealing with dementia  (from 2011 to 2015)

  7. One mini-miracle and a long day  (Spring 2014)

  8. Prayers to Archangels for departed loved ones  (2014-2015-2021)

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