Bible Study Help for Adults With Dementia?

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I'm a relatively new (4 months) pastor/chaplain (there are 3 of us) at Holland Christian Homes in Brampton. We have a unique ministry to a variety of the 1100 residents (average age is 87) who live on our campus. Some are in independent apartments and others live in long term care (just under 300 spread over 8 floors).

We have a morning and evening worship service on Sunday for the CRC that meets on campus. We also lead "Bible Studies" for residents on each of the floors in the nursing facility. My question concerns these people. They have varying levels of cognition because of disability and dementia. Hymn singing runs for 30 minutes followed by a Bible study for 30 minutes once a week.

I am trying different things to capture the attention of residents. I've read a Bible text and explained it. I've read a Bible text with explanation interspersed. I've acted out a Bible text with lots of motion. I've read the text and then retold it to explain while inviting residents to repeat key parts. Each method works for 2 or 3 of the 25 to 30 residents who attend each week. Some sleep. Some are unable to focus. The hymn sing gains a lot of action. In my acting out the Bible text, I had the most response by residents. But that takes a lot of work.

My question: For those who have worked with people at varying levels of dementia (leaning toward severe) what do you use for Bible reading and study?

I'm looking at using Sally Lloyd Jones' "The Jesus Storybook Bible Curriculum" for some ideas/plans for Bible study. There is a short video that can be used with it (I do have access to a large television monitor on several floors).

My hope is to be sensitive to people and their capabilities while sharing the gospel message with residents, many of whom grew up in Christian churches.

Thanks for your help,

Richard

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Guide

Richard, congratulations and God's blessings on your new call to serve as chaplain at HCH. Two suggestions:
1. Together Small Groups (I've written some of the theological introductions) has been adapted for groups of people with and without dementia. 

2. Do you (or the HCH library) have a copy of Handbook for Worship: Christian Worship Experiences for Persons with Dementia? If not, please get in touch with me privately. I may be able to get you a copy. 

Mark

Community Builder

Hi Mark.

Thanks for these. Yes, I have looked at Together when we received a letter in the late fall. I checked out the free links. It's good... but I have 52 weeks in a year, so I'm hoping to find something that might follow the liturgical year.

I have read through the Handbook as well. It's good, but it doesn't fit our context... too much restructuring.

I think what I will probably end up doing in the next couple of years is writing a Bible Study handbook for my use with mostly stories and simple questions. I'll probably base it off the Jesus Biblestory book and the liturgical year Bible texts... unless something falls from the sky into my lap.

Have a blessed day.

Richard

 

We don't have adults with dementia in our adult Bible study, but we do have adults with intellectual disabilities, and we've found that the videos at The Bible Project https://bibleproject.com/explore/ are wonderful. Although they're animated, they're more aimed at adults, but they're easy to understand and fun to watch. And they have lots of videos. That said, I'm an enormous fan of The Jesus Storybook Bible--I use it when I work with children, and I read it through as my own devotional practice one year. You can't go wrong with it :-)  I'm curious about God's Big Story Cards, from Faith Alive. I use them in a children's Sunday school, but there isn't a reason why it couldn't work for adults with dementia--there are 5 different activities in the same 5 categories for every Bible story (there are over 140 stories). Some are words to repeat, sometimes you act out the story, sometimes you draw things or make stuff with PlayDoh. It might be worth exploring.

Community Builder

Thanks Natalie.

I will check out the Big Story Cards.

Glad to hear about the Jesus Storybook Bible. We love it as well.

PlayDoh won't work well in our context... yet.

thanks for these great suggestions.

I have worked with seniors in 4 senior living centers that span from independent to ALC to Memory Care for the past 7 years. In that time I have not used any curriculum but have used the lectionary texts and commentary and have found that if I can simply tell the "STORY" that the interest stays high and that it opens the possibility for interjecting commentary on contemporary illustrations so as to tie it back into things they "still" know or remember. Hymns of course work well in that seems to be part of the brain that is less affected by the memory loss and triggers memories from their earlier life which they usually sing with gusto. 

I have also found that all of this works well with those who are aging but not affected by dementia or memory loss. Sometimes I think that the church puts too much emphasis on making the theological point and getting across the "lesson" but if we remember, Jesus taught best when he told stories and the more familiar the text in our case, the better. If we can provide new learnings on old favorite texts for short bursts it keeps their attention, even when we think they are asleep or not paying attention.

The best thing we can give in any worship, preaching, teaching setting is LOVE and Fellowship and reconnecting them with one another and with God.

At least that is what consistently works for me.

Community Builder

thanks Michael.

Great comments that will be helpful. Yes about LOVE and FELLOWSHIP. I would also add compassion, grace, kindness, and touch. I don't do theological points anymore... but just try to keep it simple and hit the big notes.

For example, today I retold the story of Noah. God made a covenant with Noah... he promised to look after him... and to never destroy the earth... the reminder was a rainbow. The colours you see around you today is the reminder of God's love to you. The colours of the shirts that the folks around here wear who care for you are God's promise of help and rescue.

Belssings on your work.

Three of us with one guitar sang in nursing homes featuring favorite hymns but we would always catch their attention whenever we would sing children's favorites, e.g., "Jesus Loves Me...or Jesus Loves the Little Children...the B I B L E, yes that's the book for me. We would watch lips moving with occasional humming of simple children's melodies. Inspiring to us was this scene always.