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ABCs of Alzheimer’s Ministry

  • Pat Otwell Author of Guide to Ministering to Alzheimer’s Patients and Their Families published by Taylor & Francis (Routledge).
  • 2010 12 May
ABCs of Alzheimer’s Ministry

Have you ever wanted to help a person who has Alzheimer's disease but didn't know what to do? The next time you are faced with this dilemma, let the following suggestions come to your rescue. Some of these acts can be performed by individuals, whereas other recommendations are undertaken appropriately as projects by Sunday School classes, youth groups or mission organizations.

ADVOCATE by contacting local, state and national lawmakers to request increased funding for Alzheimer's research and to enact legislation that will improve quality of life.

BE a friend—no matter what.

CONTACT those affected by Alzheimer's frequently to see if there are practical needs you can meet.

DONATE a book about Alzheimer's to a church or public library.

ENROLL a patient in the Safe Return program sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association and pay the annual fee (if applicable).

FAMILARIZE yourself with non-verbal techniques to facilitate communication with patients.

GIVE a Gideon Bible in honor of a patient.

HIRE a home health aide to stay with a patient for a few hours each week to enable the family to have a time of respite.

INVITE patients and families to attend church socials and make them feel welcome.

JOKE sensitively to relieve tension.

KEEP abreast of services, programs and other resources that are available for patients and families.

LEARN as much as possible about the nature of Alzheimer's disease and how it affects patients.

MAKE a Scripture box of God's promises to give patients and families as a source of encouragement.

NEVER argue with patients as this leads to agitation and makes matters worse.

OFFER transportation to a patient and spouse when attending worship services.

PRAY for specific needs of patients and families, as well as a cure for the disease.

QUELL patients' fears by listening to their concerns and offering reassurance.

RELY on the Holy Spirit to guide you.

SEND cards on special occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays and holidays.

TAKE a home-cooked meal to a patient and family at least once a month.

UNITE with members of other congregations to provide support groups for families and specialized worship opportunities for patients.

VISIT periodically as an expression of your love and a tangible reminder of God's love.

WATCH out for patients' safety.

Xcuse irrational and eccentric behaviors. 

YIELD momentarily to patients' needs instead of your own.

ZERO in on what the experience must be like for a patient who has Alzheimer's and minister as you would want others to minister to you if you had the disease.


© 2009 by Pat Otwell

Pat Otwell served as chaplain at Cherry Street Manor, Cherry Street Annex, Parkview Convalescent Center, and Cherry Street Apartments (1983-1997); Paris Adult Day Care Center (1992-1996); and Colonial Lodge Retirement Center (1991-1996) in Paris, Texas. During that time, she was on the cutting-edge of Alzheimer's ministry and gained experience in virtually all aspects—assisting in nursing facility placement and adjustment, providing day-to-day-spiritual care for patients and families, providing crisis ministry during hospitalizations, developing and facilitating an Alzheimer's support group and officiating at funerals. Pat also was consultant for the Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Unit at Cherry Street Manor (1994-1997) and offered training for employees who worked on that unit (1996-1997).

She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Mercer University (1968); Master of Education degree from the University of Georgia (1972); Master of Religious Education (1977), Master of Divinity (1979) and Doctor of Ministry (1986) degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition, Pat completed two and a half years of Clinical Pastoral Education at hospitals in Georgia, South Carolina and Maryland.

Her publications include: Guide to Ministering to Alzheimer's Patients and Their Families (Taylor & Francis [Routledge], 2008); A Chaplain-Led Ministry to Families of Alzheimer's Disease Patients Through the Development and Utilization of a Support Group (Doctor of Ministry Project Report, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1986); "A Hobby that Ministers" (Christian Single, 1986); and "Reflections" (Christian Single, 1984).

She is a retired Clinical Member of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education and a retired Associate Chaplain of the Association of Professional Chaplains. She currently resides in Ormond Beach, Fla., and enjoys a writing ministry, playing the piano and walking along the beach.