By Sheila Welch
Every 66 seconds another person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and must have care. Another family is thrown into chaos having been given little or no instruction in providing that care. Today, four out of five of those families fracture under the stresses of caring for a family member who lives with Alzheimer's or related dementias. Relationships are broken, often never to be mended. How do we minister to these families?
Our Caregivers’ Ministry at Due West UMC in Marietta, grew out of a simple conversation in the parking lot of our church. Two friends, each loving her mother through Alzheimer’s, found life-saving comfort in talking with each other. They invited others to join them once a month for what became our first Alzheimer’s Family Support Group. A couple of years later, they invited me to come to the group to speak.
I never left that group, and a year later I became its facilitator. I was struck by what I saw in those caregivers. My life had been so very similar, but as I listened to their stories, I heard a truth louder than I had ever heard it before. Caregivers need just as much care as the person who is living with dementia … sometimes more.
Caregivers have taught me that laughing is healing and sharing the lives of those who are loving a family member through dementia is an honor, a privilege … and for me … a calling.
I became convicted that in addition to our support group, we needed to help families learn how to protect themselves while they are protecting their loved ones … to help them to find balance in their lives. In order to do that, we must empower caregivers by providing dementia education. Further, we need a day to honor caregivers; to offer help, hope, education and inspiration. And to send the very clear message that they are not alone.
In 2012 Due West held it’s first Annual Caregivers’ Conference hosting 35 attendees with the help of 4 volunteers. In September 2016, at our fifth Annual Caregivers’ Conference, we hosted over 225 caregivers with 70 volunteers from throughout our church. The United Methodist Men, Sunday School Classes, Garden Group, members of the congregation at large, and Support Group members themselves volunteered.
In January 2017, we coordinated with the Dementia Spotlight Foundation who brought Teepa Snow, internationally renowned dementia advocate, educator and trainer to 300 attendees in our Family Life Center.
A ministry that began with a parking lot conversation, has now reached over 800 families throughout Cobb and surrounding counties through conferences and workshops. Just last month we again offered hope, inspiration, education and a beautiful lunch to a full capacity crowd in our Family Life Center.
Today this ministry’s three support groups and private consultations serve an estimated 50 families a month who are loving a family member through Alzheimer's or related dementias.
This Caregivers’ Ministry could not have happened without amazing support from the clergy, staff and volunteers at Due West UMC.
On October 12 we're hosting an event to share what we've learned with clergy, churches and community members, "Ministering to Families Facing Alzheimer's and Related Dementias: A Workshop." The workshop will be a free event from 9 a.m. to noon at Due West. If you'd like to attend, email or call me at email@example.com or 404-642-6027.
Years ago, I prayed that the sadness that Alzheimer’s brought to my mother and our family might be used for good. I am blessed and forever grateful to be living His loving answer.
Sheila Welch is a lay member of Due West. Her family has lost nine members to Alzheimer's, including her mother who lived with Alzheimer's for 12 years. Following her father’s death, Sheila became her mother's Primary Caregiver. She began facilitating and coordinating this ministry seven years ago. Contact Sheila at firstname.lastname@example.org.