Dementia and Faith

USA Presbyterian pastor Rev. Dr. Cynthia Huling Hummel, wearing a special stole, has dementia and continues to lead worship. (CCN photo)

Places of worship can do more to make Canadians suffering from dementia feel welcomed say advocates

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[OTTAWA – CCN]  – An Ottawa man is on a mission to make Canadian places of worship more welcoming to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who suffer from dementia.

With January being Alzheimer Awareness Month in Canada, a special event as part of a Mass at a Catholic church in Ottawa on Jan. 26 is part of Matthew Dineen’s effort to help Canadian faith communities do more to reach out to those with dementia.

Matthew Dineen of Dementia Advocacy Canada says that places of worship and Canadian society as a whole need to do more to meet the needs of Canadians who suffer from dementia so that they are not isolated from the rest of society. Faith communities are being encouraged to make sure that those dealing with dementia know they are welcome to continue being a vital part of their church community.

With dementia, the body may be failing, but a person’s soul, their spiritual side, still needs and can benefit from staying connected to their places of worship, said Dineen.

“People with dementia are still capable of responding to God,” he said.

Dineen’s advocacy comes from personal experience. His wife Lisa was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia at the age of 43 in 2013 and was subsequently placed in long-term care.

Since then he has committed himself to pushing for societal changes to make life easier for Canadians who suffer from dementia and has been working on a set of guidelines on how places of worship can be part of those changes.

“I have been busy preparing guidelines as part of my Dementia Advocacy Canada work on how to make places of worship in Canada more dementia-friendly and inclusive. I have been speaking with key experts from across the world to learn more on this subject,” he said, adding that Canada can learn a lot from what is happening in other parts of world, specifically in the United Kingdom and Scotland.

“There they have made a societal effort to address the needs of people with dementia, they set lofty goals, and that has been embraced in their culture,” he said in a recent interview with Canadian Catholic News.

A United Kingdom-based organization called Livability ( has created a guide for how churches can be more inclusive and welcoming to people with dementia called “Developing a Dementia Friendly-Church” which has been instrumental in Dineen’s efforts to create such a tool for Canadian places of worship.

“They are much more ahead of us over there in addressing these issues from a societal perspective,” he said, adding that in parts of the United States they are also ahead of Canada in making sure church communities are doing all they can to be welcoming and inclusive for people with dementia.

Lynda Everman, a key member within the US Against Alzheimer’s community and the founder of the Clergy Against Alzheimer’s network, is one of those whom Dineen has consulted on how Canadian places of worship can be more dementia-friendly.

Part of Everman’s ministry is making stoles and tallitot for clergy, one of which will be presented at the 10:30 a.m. Mass at the St. John the Apostle Church in the Archdiocese of Ottawa Jan. 26 where Dineen will also speak.

“I take great pride in initiating work that will allow greater opportunity for those impacted by dementia to continue to be able to practice and live out their faith here in Canada,” Dineen said. “I remain hopeful that my work through Dementia Advocacy Canada will not only be used by the bishops of Canada, but with other faith traditions as well.”