Imagine the emotional and spiritual turmoil when familiar lyrics turn distant, and old choruses don’t ring a bell. Serving elders with dementia forces me to consider the question, “What happens if I get Dementia? What if I forget how to play beloved hymns on the piano, sing cherished carols, and recite childhood verses?”
Early-stage dementia is characterised by mild symptoms that may not be immediately noticeable to family and friends. People with early-stage dementia may experience forgetfulness, difficulty with problem-solving and decision-making, and changes in mood and behavior. They may struggle with finding the right words or forget the names of familiar people or objects. And it gets worse. This is not an issue that can be ignored. It is estimated that by 2030, 152,000 people in Singapore will have dementia (The Straits Times, 2022).
When I forget Gethsemane, who will lead me back to Calvary?
Jennie Evelyn Hussey (hymnary.org) was the author of the popular 1921 hymn “Lead Me to Calvary.” On any given Sunday, versions of this hymn are sung in a multitude of languages, from Chinese congregations in Asia, to English-speaking churchgoers in New Hampshire, USA, where Hussey was born.
“Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget Thine agony,
Lest I forget Thy love for me, lead me to Calvary.”
Surely that is the greatest fear for the believer: forgetting the Lord’s agony in Gethsemane, and His loving suffering for sinners at Calvary. If we forget key faith moments, how do we remain faithful believers? Songs are a balm for hurting souls, and a powerful remembrance aid through lyrics and melody.
King of my life I crown Thee now, Thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow, Lead me to Calvary.
Practically, for those diagnosed with early-stage dementia, while you are able, and for as long as you are able, take hold of every chance to crown Christ as the King of your life, train your thoughts on your thorn-crowned Messiah, find assurance that He will lead you in this life and into glory eternal. This determined posture of praise is an active enabler to maintain your faculties, for as long as possible.
Surely that is the greatest fear for the believer: forgetting the Lord’s agony in Gethsemane, and His loving suffering for sinners at Calvary. If we forget key faith moments, how do we remain faithful believers?
Holding on to memories of Gethsemane and Pathways to Calvary
Show me the tomb where Thou wast laid, Tenderly mourned and wept; Angels in robes of light arrayed, Guarded Thee whilst Thou slept.
Let me like Mary, through the gloom, Come with a gift to Thee; Show to me now the empty tomb, Lead me to Calvary.
In dementia care, Cognitive Stimulation therapy is one treatment for individuals with mild to moderate dementia. Participants engage in activities such as discussion, word games, puzzles, and reminiscence therapy. The activities are designed to be enjoyable and meaningful, while also challenging the brain and promoting social interaction. Psalm 1 tells of the blessed life, and how the daily habit of meditating on God’s word entrenches the individual to sources of sustenance, and enriches the individual in life’s changing seasons, seasons of youth and health, and also, seasons of aging and dementia. Caregivers can lead early-stage dementia patients, to discuss the sequence of events from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, through word games and puzzles. These discussions challenge the brain, build interaction between the elder and the caregiver and, more so on the spiritual front, continue to reinforce memories of Gethsemane and recount the pathways of Calvary.
Dementia, a daily cross
May I be willing, Lord, to bear, Daily my cross for Thee; Even Thy cup of grief to share, Thou hast borne all for me.
Disabled by rheumatism, Jennie Evelyn Hussey was familiar with physical suffering, and the accompanying emotional agonies that come with long-term disease. Her final stanza points to the willing obedience of the suffering individual to bear their cross for the Lord, a contented disposition to share in understanding grief, just as Christ experienced when He bore the sins of the world on the Cross. Dementia symptoms can be frustrating and overwhelming. Individuals with early-stage dementia symptoms need encouragement to seek medical attention. Support from faith communities could come in the form of intercession for spiritual empowerment from God, sustaining the faithful in their dementia journey.
Jimmy Tan serves as the Assistant Director of Communication and Partnerships at St Luke’s Eldercare. He is an alumnus of Chin Lien Bible Seminary (Singapore) and holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Master’s University & Seminary (California). He attends Grace Baptist Church with his wife and four kids.
The Straits Times (2022). Living Outside with Dementia. https://www.straitstimes.com/multimedia/graphics/2022/09/dementia-neighbourhoods-singapore/index.html?shell
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VOL. 47 NO. 5 of IMPACT Magazine
REMEMBER NOT TO FORGET... Is it as easy as that? By Glenn Myers
MY MOST UNFORGETTABLE INCIDENT
MY MOST EMBARRASSING INCIDENT
DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME... Missing the intention in the instruction. By Lim K Tham
WHEN I FORGET GETHSEMANE... Heartsongs for dementia. By Jimmy Tan
SPIRITUAL AMNESIA... "What hath God done for thee?" By Corné J Bekker
EXCUSE ME, BUT WHO'S CALLING, PLEASE?~ The Impact Panel responds ~
CAN ONE FEEL GOOD WHILE DISOBEYING? By Ajith Fernando