The Gift of Faith in the Face of Memory Loss

Profound impact of faith in the face of memory loss

By Rev. Joseph Gaston, Chaplain with Donna Williams and Anna Hatcher – The Foothills Retirement Community, Easley, SC

“The Lord promises never to abandon nor forsake us,” the mantra of Betsy, a lifelong person of faith, widow of a Presbyterian Minister and Navy Chaplain. Betsy is a faithful witness that even in the face of memory loss, the gift of faith continues to be “deep down in there, and it ain’t going nowhere.” Betsy may not remember what she had for breakfast an hour ago, but she never forgets to welcome a new resident with her wonderful smile and gracious witness of the hospitality of Jesus Christ. Betsy in giving her hugs embodies Christ’s invitation “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, I will give you rest for your souls.”

As Chaplain in a retirement community, I often quote the mantra of not only Betsy, but also fellow staff member Donna Williams, “if it’s deep down in there, it ain’t going nowhere.”

Donna recalls: “While working one evening on in Long Term Care, I was singing hymns during my medication pass. I noticed that one of the residents was singing along to the hymn. I moved closer to her and noticed that she was actually singing the hymn, “Amazing Grace”, with me. The two aides that were working with me and myself were all amazed that she was singing, especially since she had not spoken in a number of days, even weeks.

“I was reminded of a training class that our administrator at the time had given on Dementia. She stated that people with Dementia forget the last things that they learn and the first things that they learn are usually last things that they forget.

“While I know that the phrase ‘if it’s deep down in there, it ain’t going nowhere’ is not grammatically correct, I learned from my resident that night that she had a firm foundation in Christ. Something that was later confirmed by her daughter.”

Anna Hatcher, the staff member responsible for the area where Betsy lives, explains: “Our residents who are familiar with hymns and Scripture have created long-term memories with strong emotional connections. From research, we know that the prefrontal cortex in the brain, which stores these types of memories, is one of the last to experience deterioration. This is the reason that so many of our residents still have the ability to recall words to hymns and Scriptures that they have memorized throughout the years.

“With the Montessori Approach to Aging and Dementia, we can utilize these retained memories to create roles to give the residents a sense of purpose. We have residents who pray before each meal, others who offer to read Scripture or pray for other residents during difficult times, and some who share their gifts by singing uplifting hymns to one another. When the residents are given the freedom to be themselves, these actions unfold naturally and are such an emotional and beautiful sight to see.”

As chaplain, I am grateful for the team effort in the ministry of senior adult care that provides opportunities for Betsy and others to respond to the joyful invitation in Colossians “ …with gratitude in our hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (3:16b). Thanks be to God that for Betsy and many others, the promises of God’s gracious presence and their joyful responses are still “deep down in there and they ain’t going nowhere!”