This special issue of Dementia brings together three perspectives related to dementia care, religion, and spirituality; the diagnosed; the family caregiver; and the clinician. It is notable that a common message is found in all three perspectives. Specifically, issues of religion and spirituality must not be ignored in the dementia experience. Spirituality and religion are significant resources – across a wide spectrum of faith perspectives – for coping with a diagnosis of dementia.
While there are many voices regarding quality dementia care, three of those voices are represented in the article: the diagnosed; the family caregiver; and the clinician.
In discussing coping and the caregiving role, Jon Stuckey provides several examples of persons relying on their religious or spiritual beliefs. Although differing in intensity by religious groups (i.e. Christian, Jewish, and nonreligious), many of the caregivers in his study expressed feelings related to how religion serves as a coping resource and how religion gives hope for the future.
The articles in this special issue draw attention to key voices in the dementia experience and the importance of religion and spirituality are pervasive among all of them. Several conclusions can be drawn from a common thread woven through all these studies:
- The voices of the diagnosed must be heard – both early in the disease and late into progression. Their voices bring forth many clues of how best to nurture religious and spiritual well-being throughout the course of the disease.
- If persons with dementia are too advanced in the disease process to speak for themselves, professional caregivers are well advised to learn about the individual religious or spiritual heritages from family members and friends. These backgrounds provide vital opportunities to nurture the spiritual body and soul of the diagnosed long after they are verbal or expressive.
- Caregiver education and support programs must attend to matters of religion and spirituality. Churches, synagogues and places of worship are underutilized resources for caregiver education and outreach programs.
- Clinicians must respect and acknowledge the need for religious and spiritual support.
Still, religion and spirituality remain crucial coping strategies for living with Alzheimer’s – for both the diagnosed and their family caregivers. Consequently, everyone involved in dementia care, including the diagnosed, the family, the clinician, and the social service worker, should consider the role of religion and spirituality in a comprehensive and holistic dementia care plan.