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  • Debbie Ducille

Reflections on ‘Ministering among those with dementia’ international online conference

On 2 May, a wonderful international online conference took place entitled ‘Ministering among those with dementia’. The conference was arranged and hosted by the Marsh Center for Chaplaincy Studies, based in Arlington, Texas and led by Director Dr Jim Browning, who also hosted the conference.

Debbie reported:

‘I’m not sure how many of our network members were able to attend one of the two sessions offered, as I did, but it was certainly a rich, thought-provoking session, covering a range of themes regarding dementia, the importance of spiritual care and the role of a chaplain.’

Speakers from around the world included Kristiina Juudin, a nursing specialist from Finland; Revd Ben Boland, an older peoples’ chaplain in Australia; US hospice chaplain Dr Richard Behers; and our own Julia Burton-Jones, training and development lead for Anna Chaplaincy at BRF Ministries. This conference promised to be an enriching and stimulating webinar bringing together several pioneering perspectives in the field of spiritual care in dementia, and it did not disappoint. Over 600 people from around the world attended the first session (2.00–4.00 pm UK time), and another 100 later that day.

Kristiina spoke about her research on developing a nursing theory for spiritual care in a nursing environment for those living with dementia, encouraging all at the conference that, at the heart of spiritual care, is an invitation to ‘remind people who they really are’. People’s spirituality might be expressed in all sorts of ways, is highly subjective and may take time to develop through any spiritual support offered: this can be problematic for nursing staff to offer in their wider role. For those who appreciate a longer, academic read, Kristiina also referenced the WHO Global Action Plan on public health responses to dementia.

Ben reminded attendees of the potential for experiencing great isolation by those individuals living with dementia, but also their families: dementia can be viewed as a social condition, then, as well as a physiological one. This has significant implications for all in society, therefore, but especially for the church in expressing connection, love and friendship among those living with dementia.

Debbie reflected:

‘I was also challenged by Julia’s contribution. She beautifully captured the key role of Anna Chaplains in building these connections, or social bridges, between individuals living with dementia and caring agencies. Essential components of life – meaning, hope, purpose and belonging – remain alive within all people, and it is a privilege to journey with people living with dementia, finding ways to enable expression of these essential components, right up to the end of life.’

Lastly, Dr Richard Behers offered a thought-provoking reflection on the role of a chaplain as part of a wider team in a hospice setting. His long experience in the field shone through in his exploration of documentation, professionalism and collaborative working patterns in clinical/palliative settings. His book, Spiritual Care for People Living with Dementia Using Multisensory Interventions (Hachette UK, 2018) might be a mouthful of a title, but is evidently full of wisdom and practical insight, which Julia referenced in her talk.

In the Q&A sessions, questions arose as to whether Anna Chaplaincy could be established in countries outside the UK, as a wonderful model of providing spiritual care in later life. This is something to be explored in the future, it is hoped, but in the meantime the team’s focus remains on embedding a sustainable ‘gold standard’ ministry in this country. Congratulations to Julia, and all involved in this enriching conference: it will provide food for thought and help shape practice for us all in future.

For anyone who would like to watch the webinar back, you can do so here.



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