Last month, Jewish Care’s pastoral and spiritual leader, Rabbi Junik, spoke alongside leaders from the Sikh and Quaker communities at the first national conference on faith, culture and dementia, hosted by the Alzheimer’s Society.
Their common message was the need for communities to work together, sharing ideas whilst calling for other faith leaders to recognise the role they can play in supporting members of their community who are living with dementia.
Person centred care is at the heart of quality dementia care provision and faith leaders are beginning to understand why they need to empower families and those who are living with dementia to live meaningful lives and provide support to them in a significant and respectful way.
In Jewish Care homes, where on average over 80% of residents are living with dementia* staff receive Jewish Way of Life training as part of their induction giving them an understanding of Jewish history and the spectrum of religious and cultural practices of the people they are caring for.
The Jewish calendar provides a weekly and annual cycle for staff to support clients and residents to access memories and it’s the traditions around Jewish festivals, the songs, together with the sight, smell and tastes of the symbolic foods that stimulate the senses have the power to stir memories for people living with dementia.
Rabbi Junik sees first-hand how faith connects and comforts people living with dementia in very different ways;
“Connecting with one’s faith either religiously or culturally can be a very comforting experience for many people living with dementia and their families. We provide care to Jewish people from across the community who have had a wide spectrum of engagement with their Judaism. People living with dementia often go back to their strongest memories in their formative years so even if people haven’t engaged with Judaism later on in their lives, taking part in traditional Jewish experiences provides the opportunity to bring a person’s cultural identity to the forefront.
“Helping people to connect on a spiritual level can sometimes help to connect them more strongly to their personal identity. It might be that putting on a traditional head covering triggers the memory of the blessing that goes with it, or lighting the candles to welcome the sabbath brings back positive memories of the many times a person has enjoyed being a part of this ritual in the past.
“Preparations around the festivals, can trigger memories of family and childhood communities. Whether they come from the East End or Baghdad, eating honey cake on the Jewish New Year can connect people to others and shared traditions and cultural experiences can create a stronger sense of identity and community”.
Charlie and his daughter Judith are regulars at the Memory Way Café held at a Jewish Care centre for people living with dementia. Judith has seen how the centre has reconnected her Dad and others around him to their roots and given them a sense of belonging to their community; “Dad is on his own and when we go to the Dennis Centre we get such a warm welcome, it’s like going to see our extended family as everyone there is so kind and caring. When they celebrate festivals, and have the cakes it helps reminds Dad of the Jewish cycle of the year which is really helpful as he doesn’t look at the calendar now so it gives him a sense of the rhythm of the year.”
The benefits of culturally sensitive care are evident. The challenge ahead is to engage more faith leaders to ensure that people of all faiths living with dementia can remain connected to something that is often at the heart of who they are.
* There are approximately 270,000 Jews living in the UK and based on statistics from the 2011 census the Jewish population has significantly more people over 80 and over 85 than the general population. In 2011, 21% of the Jewish population in the UK were over 65. Given that statistically the prevalence of dementia is greater as age advances and particularly for people over 80, clearly the Jewish community has a significant challenge to meet.
**Alzheimer’s Society, https://www.dementiaaction.org.uk/events/26818_faith_culture_and_dementia_conference