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Praying with an Alzheimer's Patient
Alexander, Andy, S.J.
Waldron, Maureen McCann
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Prayer, like music, can often reach the deepest part of a person's soul. It is no different for someone with Alzheimer's Disease. Long after many abilities have slipped away, music and prayer can sometimes remain. Both are learned early in life and have so many repetitions in the years that follow, that a person even in the later stages of Alzheimer's can spontaneously participate. How do we pray with someone who has Alzheimer's? Familiarity with the prayer a key element for an Alzheimer's patient. For example, for a Catholic with Alzheimer's the Rosary can be a comforting prayer simply because it uses three familiar prayers that are central to Catholics: the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. The Rosary is a prayer form that can be effective in any Christian tradition, but it could be difficult for an Alzheimer's patient to learn the Hail Mary.What religious tradition does an person with Alzheimer's come from? What might she/he have prayed as a child? Older patients whose childhoods were spent reading Bible might find great comfort in scriptures, Gospels or Psalms. Perhaps there is an old childhood prayer book around that is marked with favorite prayers. They might offer some assurance or peace, especially if read by a familiar voice.Touch is also an important part of praying with an Alzheimer's patient, especially as communication becomes more difficult. If we place a chair next to the bed while praying, we can hold a hand, squeeze a shoulder or caress a face. Touch can be a "doorway" for letting words through when someone can't concentrate for long.Religious imagery can be a powerful tool for those who are have a debilitating disease. A family member might stare or simply cling to a religious image. Sacred objects can give a "spiritual" context to a conversation or time together. It can be anything from holy water we bless ourselves with, blessed palm branches we hold or fold into crosses, a medal or scapular we wear or pin on, a crucifix or cross we place before us. Holy cards, with images of Jesus, Mary or the saints can be important objects to take out or hold. They might already be in our loved one's prayer book.In the right setting, a lit candle or even incense can draw people deep into the faith memory of many people. Beginning and ending a "prayer time" with any of these "sacramental" acts or symbols can signify, deep in ones spiritual memory, that something holy is beginning or ending.