September 22, 2017

God in the Face of Alzheimer’s Disease by Alan Anderson

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31: 6).

A few years ago while working as a chaplain in a care facility for people with complex care needs God showed up in a special way. Healthcare is a busy, stressful and bureaucratic system. Often time’s patients may be unconsciously overshadowed by the tasks at hand. There is always work to be done that is deemed necessary. There are also times where we may miss prompts from God that remind us of what really matters.

The facility I worked in was home to about one hundred mainly elderly people. This included a locked area housing people with Alzheimer’s. I spent about two hours each working day in the Alzheimer’s unit. It was a quiet area where music from a by-gone era played in the background through speakers in the ceiling.

Part of my routine was to sit with the residents during morning coffee time. We would sit together around a table. I enjoyed their company. Sometimes I would ask the folk simple questions like “how are you today?” The questions were usually followed by smiles or brief replies from the residents. Most of them no longer held conversations of any length. Needless to say, coffee table talk was minimal.

One morning while enjoying coffee and cookies with my tablemates a lady smiled at me from across the room. A nurse had informed me this lady loved to pray for people and liked to recite Scripture verses. This was all when she was able to communicate more often with people. I could see in her smile that she would still communicate from time to time.

Our introduction to each other came through a smile and a brief look in the eyes. Alzheimer’s had imprisoned her mind and she no longer conversed with anyone. It seemed most of the time she was in her own world. There were times where she was able to peek into the world once familiar to her. I was now about to share in one of these moments.

I walked over to her and said hello. Her name was Alice. I remembered what the nurse told me about the lady’s use of Scripture language. I said, “This is the day that the Lord has made…” She smiled yet again and said, “amen brother.” When I finished the line and said, “let us rejoice and be glad in it!” she said, “oh yes, yes, brother.” It was a brief connection. She then drifted off somewhere I couldn’t go. She smiled but her eyes turned from the sparkle I saw a few seconds ago to a look that did not seem to see me.

Teachers like Alice are real. Our teachers may impress on us the frailty yet beautiful gift of life. I hope I capture this in my writing.

If, one day I fall under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease and forget the world and those I love, I pray they will not forget me. I know God won’t. I can rest in that joy!

This brief interaction with Alice was an insightful reminder of the everlasting presence of God. It was amazing that when she spoke it was in the language of Scripture. In Scripture we are encouraged that God will never leave us or forsake us. Alice, as one of my teachers, impressed this promise on me. God never leaves us. Never! I will never forget Alice!




  1. My own mother - a vibrant and vivacious woman - succumbed to dymentia in her latter years. Before she lost the ability to speak at all, she would do similarly to what you described here. If someone started a familiar verse, she could finish it. this post brought back many memories.

  2. This goes so well with the message I heard on Sunday about taking time to really get scripture inside of us. Without it we are as lost as anyone, with or without Alzheimer's or dementia as when we need it the most it won't be there. We have no idea how God may be speaking to people on the inside during the most lost times of their lives and using others, such as yourself, to speak to them too.

  3. God bless you for taking the time and making the effort to connect with this elderly woman. My dad and more than one or two of his sisters had Alzheimer's or dementia. One day when I was visiting Dad, he couldn't remember how to bend his knees to sit on a chair and he needed help to lie down.

    When I sang him a hymn from his old Swedish hymnal, he corrected my pronunciation and paraphrased each verse in English for me. It was a connection, however, and I was always happy to connect with him.

  4. A woman in our church was severely brain-injured in an accident a number of years ago. She has lost much of her mental abilities, but scripture and her love of God remain. When pastor says a verse from the pulpit, this lady will join in joyfully. At the beginning or prayer time, she takes the microphone first and says, "I believe in God and thank him for all he's done for me." Yes, God and scripture, once deep inside, are there to stay!


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