Voices: Caring for those who can’t remember their names

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I once spoke to a group of about 300 people. All wore name tags. Many knew each other, but in case they forgot someone’s name, a tag attached to a shoulder was a good reminder. None of them knew me.

I began by using the name tags as an attention getter. And then I said something to this effect: “Names are often difficult to remember; so, I’m pleased we are all easily identified. If I forget your name, I can read it, and my problem is solved.

“What if we couldn’t recall our own name? What if we couldn’t bring to mind friends or family? Or how about the nightmare of forgetting who God is?

“There may come a time when our memories fail us, but God’s mind never collapses. Can he experience a senior moment and forget who we are? Nope! Not possible.

“Out of his great power, he notes our existence. He sees a tiny sparrow fall to earth, and he tells us we’re worth more to him than many sparrows. He also numbers the hairs on our head. Of course, some of us have more to count than others, but who besides a thoughtful Creator would concern himself with tiny hairs are on our head?

“He retains more information about us than Google accumulates. If we live to the ripe old age of 969 years as Methuselah did, we won’t know our mind, body and spirit as God does. When you love someone, you want to know the details of their life. That’s God for you.

“A disease like Alzheimer’s may make us powerless to remember him or each other, but he always recognizes us.

“Here’s something interesting. God chooses to forget the sin and awful deeds we’ve done but forever remembers us, the person. Our names are so important to him that he records them in his Book of Life when we become part of his family.”

When dementia became personal

At the time I spoke, our daughter was healthy. She now experiences early onset dementia. A time is coming when she won’t recognize me, and in all probability, she’ll forget God. No matter. God loves her, and so do I.

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When our daughter no longer can speak, God will call her by name. Isn’t that amazing? He’s never confused. Illness makes us bewildered and fearful, but God records our tears.

According to a popular quote: “Satan knows your name, but he calls you by your sin. God knows your sin, but he calls you by your name.”

People with dementia can become angry, because they can’t remember normal things like their name. Many won’t be able to meditate on the Holy One, but his eye pinpoints them.

Millions with Alzheimer’s and dementia

Statistics regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia are scary. Today, in the United States, some 5 million people live with the horrific disease of dementia. Millions of family caregivers also are affected by the ailment. Financial cost is an additional hardship. Medical professionals project numbers to increase.

One in six women and 1 in 10 men who make it past their 55th year will acquire a form of dementia. Young people, like our daughter, can acquire early onset dementia, as well. Symptoms begin to show up between the ages of 30 and 60.

Most people live about eight years after diagnosis, but others can live 20 years. Memory and body functions decline daily for these dear ones. They become a living shell.

Caring for those with memory loss

Patience. Love. Respect. These are qualities a dementia sufferer needs. These virtues are difficult to give, especially if the patient grows belligerent, uncooperative and unresponsive.

What can the church do to minister to those enduring this disease? How can the church help the caregiver?

Don’t forget them. God hasn’t.

Visit the facilities, but keep visits brief. Patients with dementia have short attention spans. Don’t ask questions they can’t answer. Instead, share the events of your day.

They love homemade food. Surprise them with a casserole. Send cards. Call on the phone. Tell them God loves them and remembers them.

We can’t explain why disease and hard times came their way or ours. Only God knows why. Our choice is to remain faithful to him and to the person who hurts.

Gay N. Lewis is a Texas pastor’s wife and an author, speaker and mother. They have a daughter with early onset dementia who lives in a memory care facility. Lewis’ novels are available on Amazon. She can be contacted via her blog or email at gaynlewis@gmail.com. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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