When mind and memory fail

A growing number of people in the UK and around the world are suffering from dementia. A report in 2019 commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Society said there are 900,000 people in the UK suffering with dementia. It is projected that by 2040 this will rise to 1.6 million. Every 3 minutes someone develops dementia. 70% of people in care homes have dementia or serious memory problems. In April 2022 the monthly death statistics for England reported dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as the biggest cause of death. Around the world more than 57 million people have dementia.

Dementia is caused by different diseases that damage the brain and is most common in older people. There is no cure. The symptoms get worse over time and include memory loss, confusion and needing help with daily tasks, problems with language and understanding, changes in behaviour. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common followed by vascular dementia. Two thirds of the cost of dementia is paid by people with dementia and their families. Unpaid carers supporting someone with dementia save the UK economy £13.9 billion a year. The total annual cost of care for people with dementia in the UK is £34.7 billion.

Some parts of the memory are not affected by dementia, especially things we have memorised in early life. Many older people have had meaningful contact with the Christian faith in their younger years. They have sung hymns and memorised Bible verses. Even when they have dementia and cannot cope with daily tasks or recognise friends and family members, they will be able to sing along with hymns and find great comfort in doing so. Reading familiar Bible passages such as Psalm 23 to them or singing familiar hymns with them will be a great encouragement to them.

Those who are caring for a loved one suffering from dementia need to know hope. Often the main carer is an elderly spouse or unmarried daughter. Carers may feel increasingly cut off from wider society and “lose” the loved one they are caring for who eventually may not recognise them. The hope they need is found in the living God and in his Son Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life and who gives eternal life to all who look to him in faith. He knows us and remembers us. In one of his hymns James Montgomery prays, “And when these lips grow dumb, and mind and memory fail, when Thou shalt in Thy kingdom come, Jesus, remember me.” It is a prayer Jesus hears and answers.

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