New Harmony: Speaking to the spirits of those with dementia

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Relying on others is not a sin. In fact, it’s humanizing. But when we talk about people with dementia, we see them as “less than human.”

It touches everyone.

It’s now touching our family.

If it hasn’t touched yours, it will.

Dementia is no respecter of persons. It visits royalty and it visits ragamuffins. And it is the trail of no return. There are no “dementia survivor” groups.

And while modern medicine seeks ways to cure it, members of religious communities seek ways to think and talk about it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many resources to help families cope with loved ones whose lights are dimming. But since I’m a big believer in “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), let me share some spiritual thoughts about dementia from an “outsider,” a Christian physician named John Dunlop. His new book, “Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia” (Crossway, July 2017) has been causing ripples in the Christian community.

First, Dunlop says dementia is especially upsetting to modern society because we equate “dignity” with “self-sufficiency.” But that’s culture talking, Dunlop says, not Christianity. From cover to cover, the Bible is a book about seeking and getting help, not about being “self-reliant.”

Relying on others is not a sin. In fact, it’s humanizing. But when we talk about people with dementia, we see them as “less than human.”

Our language gives us away.

We say “He’s not there anymore” or “He’s just a shell now” or “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.” We think people with dementia have somehow become “less.”

But inside that so-called “shell,” Dunlop says, beats a spirit that is still alive and vibrant. The spirit doesn’t collapse with the body. Keep your eye on that, Dunlop says, not on the dying brain.

Matthew Loftus, writing for Christianity Today, highlights an insight in Dunlop’s book that struck me with force in an article titled “The Beginning of Dementia Isn’t the End of Grace” (published Aug. 18, 2017). It is this:…

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