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Alzheimer's is more than losing some memories

Reverend Doctor Dawn Jeffers Ramstad (right) and Lead Pastoral Caregiver Vicki Bolton, both of Hudson United Methodist Church, said becoming a dementia-friendly church fit well with their church. Both said being a dementia-friendly church has helped church members stay patient and try to better understand everyone’s situation. Sara Tischauser / RiverTown Multimedia

People with dementia may slowly lose their memories; finding activities in which they feel comfortable participating may become harder as the dementia progresses.

However, Nancy Abrahamson, dementia care specialist at St. Croix County Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), said some local churches will participate in Dementia Friendly Sunday on June 10 with a community sing along in the afternoon.

Abrahamson said a letter sent out to local churches invited them to participate in Dementia Friendly Sunday. Along with the letter, churches were provided with a checklist of items to make the church more "dementia friendly." This included items such as making sure the church is clutter free, mapping out areas, minimizing background noise, possibly simplifying tasks/directions so someone with dementia can understand, having practices in place to continue to minister to dementia members and caregivers once they can no longer come to church, having church leaders educated about dementia, and more.

Hudson United Methodist Church was one of the first area churches to be designated "dementia friendly."

Vicki Bolton, lead pastoral caregiver at Hudson UMC, said their church became dementia friendly about a year ago and participated in last year's Dementia Friendly Sunday.

Hudson UMC Reverend Dr. Dawn Jeffers Ramstad said part of being a dementia friendly church is that people know what is happening and in what order. She said by doing this it also helps them be a child sensitive church.

One of the most important aspects of being a dementia friendly church is sharing and the openness with which people can talk. Jeffers Ramstad said people who have been diagnosed with dementia share their experiences to help others understand and help those that might be at the beginning stages of the disease.

Bolton said some people come to church because they feel it is a "safe place" to talk; being dementia friendly has allowed more conversations to take place about dementia and other mental health issues.

"By being more dementia friendly, [we are] more generational," Bolton said. "Makes us safer for other people."

Jeffers Ramstad said they even look at seating in the dining room for meals. While they may want to break up some groups and mix the generations, they need to consider how a person with dementia would react. Sometimes this can cause them anxiety and confusion if they are suddenly sitting by new people. Jeffers Ramstad said it's important to consider how people with dementia would react to such changes.

A picture of the original church allows people to reminisce and remember the old church and past memories. This photo can really help someone with dementia remember or relate to the church.

Jeffers Ramstad said trying to find ways to keep members engaged in the church is what they work toward.

"How can we keep people engaged as long as possible," Jeffers Ramstad said. "Look and see what we can do and what we can't."

Jeffers Ramstad said some of their members reside at Christian Community Home who help fold the bulletins as a way to stay engaged.

"It's always about having purpose," Bolton said. "Just to feel part of church and community."

Anyone who has questions about how to make a church dementia friendly can contact the Hudson UMC office at 715-386-3921. Jeffers Ramstad said Abrahamson uses her expertise to put on an "intentional training" that is good for those who wish to become dementia friendly.

In addition to having dementia friendly church services throughout the area on June 10, Abrahamson said the first "Music by Heart" program will take place at 1 p.m. at the Hudson Bandshell in Lakefront Park. The event will will be a community sing-along and will feature the O'Briens; it is presented by the Dementia Friendly Communities Coalition.

Abrahamson said music comforts people and is part of a person's life from when they are in the womb and throughout their life. Also, she said, music is something that people with dementia can relate to even as other memories and parts of their life are lost.

"With dementia different things are lost over time," Abrahamson said. "Music is one of those things that stay with us to the end stages. So when we lose other skills like maybe how to do math, we can still sing or listen to music."

People can bring a picnic lunch and should bring their own lawn chairs, while lemonade and cookies will be provided at Music by Heart. If there is rain the day of the event it will be moved to Woodland Hills Auditorium (441 Stageline Road, Hudson.)

"We're encouraging the whole family to come with persons with memory loss," Abrahamson said.