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Remembering Jesus this Christmas while living with dementia

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” Audrey sang. She recognised the song immediately. Her daughter, Judy, and Judy’s husband, Peter Hallett, were thrilled.

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“It was like a door had been unlocked. We’d been trying to find the key for a long time,” says Peter.

Audrey Drury had been a Christian since high school. In her family, she was a strong influence on the faith of her children, her grandchildren and even her son-in-law, Peter.

“Her devotion was something we held in deep respect. Faith was a very big part of her life,” he tells Eternity. 

In her 80s, Audrey was formally diagnosed with dementia. Eventually, she moved into a cottage for dementia care run by HammondCare, a Christian aged-care provider. Her family visited regularly, but it was becoming more difficult for them to interact with Audrey around her faith.

“Living with dementia certainly didn’t stop [her faith], but some of the ways we were used to engaging with her around faith weren’t as accessible anymore. She wasn’t opening the Bible to read it. She was attending a Bible study for a while, but it became harder for her to follow and engage with. We were looking for ways to keep that part of our relationship with her alive and active,” says Peter.

HammondCare and Bible Society Australia are launching two new resources for people living with dementia, including one to help engage with Christmas.

HammondCare and Bible Society Australia are launching two new resources for people living with dementia, including one to help engage with Christmas.

In his work for HammondCare, Peter Hallett was involved in the development of a series of Christian resources designed to help people living with dementia connect with their Christian faith. Called Faith for Life, the resources are produced by HammondCare and Bible Society Australia, and include pictures, a few words of Scripture, a hymn and a prayer to help stimulate connection and conversation.

Two new booklets have been added to the Faith For Life catalogue this year, including a Christmas booklet titled Joy to the world, which presents the message of Jesus’ birth simply and clearly. Another booklet titled He restores my soul is a series of short devotions based on well-known Psalms.

“She really seemed to come alive with these very reminiscent songs and phrases.” – Peter Hallett

Just after Christmas last year, Peter and Judy visited Audrey with one of the Faith for Life booklets.

“We wanted to focus on Christmas and Jesus, so I got out the cards and showed her. One of the cards had a hymn, Jesus Loves Me, and I asked her if she knew it. And she just started singing.

“When that happened, we were stunned. It wasn’t the kind of thing that had been happening very much. She really seemed to come alive with these very reminiscent songs and phrases.”

Moving through the cards, Audrey kept singing, often unprompted, What a friend we have in Jesus, The Lord God made them all.

“I think we knew it was there in her, but it was beautiful the way it unfolded that day. Her great-grandchildren were there playing, and we were singing with her. There were times she would be tapping her feet, using her hands, smiling at the kids. It was precious.”

In March this year, Audrey passed away. But Peter said the Faith for Life resources helped Audrey’s family tap into a part of Audrey’s life that was so important to her, and to be reassured of her faith in the last few months of her life.

“You’re really trying to connect and engage with people in the moment.” – Andrew Nixon

“Christians who are living with dementia still have faith, but the resources acknowledge that the way they engage with faith has changed,” says Peter.

Head of pastoral care and volunteer services Andrew Nixon says walking and caring with someone with cognitive decline isn’t easy.

“You’re really trying to connect and engage with people in the moment. And there are no two situations that are the same. Everybody living with dementia experiences it in a different way,” Nixon says.

“Liturgy and familiar Bible passages and things that people have learned in their youth can be amazing triggers that are very valuable in sharing and relating to those living with dementia. This generation of older Australians who took the time to memorise Scriptures and learn hymns and prayers as young people can connect with God and with other people as they experience dementia.”

Bible Society Australia and HammondCare are running a series of seminars in New South Wales to promote the Faith For Life resources and help chaplains, church leaders, pastoral care and aged-care workers and family and friends of those living with dementia use the resources to help people connect with their faith.

The seminars will include a panel discussion and Q&A session considering how to encourage and support people living with dementia to engage with faith and the Bible. They will be held in Erina on the central coast on November 27, in Pennant Hills in Sydney’s Hills district, on November 29 and Wollongong, south of Sydney, on November 30.

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