AS DEMENTIA fast replaces cancer as the most-feared diagnosis, Joanna Collicutt’s sympathetic introduction to the various manifestations and challenges of the condition addresses a growing need. She writes as a clinical neuropsychologist and theologian, but with the clarity of a teacher and reflective practitioner — hitting a note that pitches Thinking of You at a broader, lay market than John Swinton’s Ramsey prizewinning Dementia: Living in the memories of God (SCM Press, 2012).
It is a pity that the cover design and subtitle might hamper the book’s shelf appeal, because the medical, biological, and social approaches to dementia which Collicutt describes in the first part, when she differentiates between different types of diagnoses, have nothing “spiritual” about them, but fill a gap that professionals rarely have time to explain to those who know little about the condition.
The remaining three parts set out a philosophical and theological framework for thinking about those whose own thinking and memory has become disordered; identify how best to meet their spiritual needs, one to one, by being fully present and attentive; and suggest how churches might become more dementia-friendly.
While some buildings are more conducive to this than others, it is the culture of care which makes the greatest difference. Even those who don’t recognise anyone in the congregation, and have long forgotten how they got to church, can enjoy singing hymns and praying in words learnt by heart in childhood.
In the four years since my mother received her diagnosis, I’ve learnt by trial and error what helps and what hinders; what brings a smile to otherwise vacant eyes, and what causes agitation and distress. But I have learnt, too, that there are very few places where the demented are welcomed with the understanding that they deserve.
This book challenges that prejudice, and offers sound advice for those who dare to venture on seemingly bleak but strangely blessed territory. There is joy to be had in picking up the dropped stitches of the stories that those with dementia have forgotten, and a beauty in learning, like them, to take each moment as it comes.
The Revd Penny Seabrook is Associate Vicar of All Saints’, Fulham, in London.
Thinking of You: A resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia
Church Times Bookshop £9