The UK population is ageing and with an estimated one million people living with dementia by the year 2025, more and more organisations and communities are adapting the way they think and operate in order to incorporate people living with the condition. As well as cinemas, community centres, theatres, leisure centres and even supermarkets providing specialist Dementia events, the Church has also found a way to reach out and help members of their congregation cope with the changes in their lives and health.

The Church of England is actively encouraging its Diocese to work with people to help make their churches and services ‘dementia friendly’. Some parishes organise specific services and activities for people living with dementia, while others look at all their activities and buildings to see how they can become more dementia friendly. Adjustments to the structure of the buildings, appointing Dementia Coordinators or offering Dementia courses to those who work in the church, are some practical ways in which churches are helping.  They are also adapting services to make them more dementia friendly by adding some pictures to the service sheets, using object and movement instead of just words, or using prayers and hymns that people might know well from when they were younger.

Loneliness can affect the rate at which dementia progresses, so the social and community aspect that the church offers can be vital in keeping people as healthy as possible, for as long as possible. Dancing with Dementia, Singing for Dementia, Films for Dementia – are all schemes that have been introduced at churches across Britain to stop people with the condition from feeling isolated and ignored. Not only do these services enable the person to be treated with respect and dignity but they can also help them to keep their faith through what is a very difficult time.

Fourteen Churches in Shropshire that form the Ellesmere Deanery, are the first in the country to all be dementia friendly. It’s in the Diocese of Lichfield which is recognised by the Alzheimer’s Society as a dementiafriendly community. Keeping their churches accessible to all has helped spill out in to the wider community with an aim to reach those living with dementia and their carers, whether they are regular church attenders or not. “Many of us today know people living with dementia, either in our own families or in our communities or congregations,”  Rural Dean the Revd Linda Cox said. “It is so important to be able to continue to live and enjoy the things that connect us. Our churches need to be accessible to all, so any changes we can make to help this are indeed good news.”

Guides and resources have been produced by the Church of England to help each church find their own way to keep people with dementia feeling included. The hope is that soon all churches will be Dementia Friendly and with such positive outcomes from the churches and communities who are already involved, this can only be a good thing for everyone concerned.