A STUDY examining the impact on the faith of people caring for loved ones with dementia has called for churches to do more to reach out to carers, many of whom have to drop out of churchgoing.
The small-scale study of 53 churchgoing carers from a range of denominations found that they experienced profound loneliness, and that the support offered by medical, social, and welfare services, and churches, was patchy at best.
One carer said that the caring years were “the darkest years of my life, and the years I felt most spiritually dead”. Others said that their faith had been challenged by caring for a loved one with dementia, but also deepened.
The study was carried out by four researchers, all aged over 70. Most who responded to the survey had been caring for a loved one for more than three years, although two had been caring for more than 20 years, and one woman had been caring for her mother for 17 years.
All were aged over 50: most who responded were in their seventies and eighties.
The Revd John Cole, one of the authors, is a former national adviser (unity in mission) to the Church of England. He said that the study showed that churches should do more to support carers of people with dementia, particularly as many are forced to drop out of church activities owing to the demands on their time.
“There is scope for more and deeper listening. Local church members should not give up on visiting those who are in danger of losing touch with their church because of the demands of their caring role.
“Some carers clearly face considerable difficulties, once their caring role has ceased, in returning to regular churchgoing after what has often been a long period of enforced absence. If other church members understand, they will be able to help.”
Churches should do everything possible to become “dementia friendly” and be less wary of people who are suffering from dementia, the study suggests. They could also play a crucial part in helping carers to make new friendships to help them offset their emotional loneliness.
The full study, The Loneliness of the Long-distance Carer: The experience of primary carers of loved ones with dementia, by A. Jewell, J. Cole, J. Rolph, and P. Rolph, is published in the latest issue of the journal Rural Theology.