Dementia is one of the most feared diseases in Western society today. Some have even gone so far as to suggest euthanasia as a solution to the perceived indignity of memory loss and the disorientation that accompanies it.
In this book John Swinton develops a practical theology of dementia for caregivers, people with dementia, ministers, hospital chaplains, and medical practitioners as he explores two primary questions: Who am I when I've forgotten who I am? What does it mean to love God and be loved by God when I have forgotten who God is? Offering compassionate and carefully considered theological and pastoral responses to dementia and forgetfulness, Swinton's Dementia: Living in the Memories of God redefines dementia in light of the transformative counter story that is the gospel.
John Swinton (born 1957) is a Scottish theologian. He is the Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies at the School of Divinity, History, and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen. He is founder of the university's Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability. He is an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland and Master of Christ’s College, the university's theological college. Swinton is a major figure in the development of disability theology.
I didn't expect care for those suffering from dementia to figure so largely in my work when I began pastoral ministry in a small congregation a year ago. But it has. Little in seminary prepared me for this work.
I'm incredibly thankful for John Swinton's Dementia Living in the Memories of God. Not a how-to book, not tips and tricks and guidelines, Dementia is pastoral theology. How do we talk about and talk to those suffering dementia in light of the God who loves us, who always remembers us?
Swinton's answer focuses on presence and attention. In fact, the book ends with a beautiful meditation on visitation. This is precisely what I needed to hear. How do I care for sisters and brothers with dementia? I sit with them. I observe the sacrament of the present moment. I visit them.
This is a must-read book for anyone in an aging congregation.
This book took a couple of goes to read (it is rather heavy) but boy it was worth it. The author a professor of practical theology is also a trained psychiatric nurse. So the book covers a huge arc between a critique of medical diagnosis and how doctors treat patients they can't cure. To a philosophy of the self and which selves are affected by dementia. To a reflection on the Trinity and how personal identity is mediated. Finishing with practical advice about how to relate to those with dementia. Profound, practical, philosophical and theological I have never read a book quite like it. It is relevant to how humans relate to one another whether or not dementia is involved. Fantastic
Be advised that my rating really applies to the last three chapters. The first chapters were a “scholarly” overview of selected sources from medical, psychology, mental health, and current thinking. It was a slog. In chapter 7 things picked up for me! Here we went deeply into our lives with God. Here we examined the scriptures and saw who we are in a physical fallen world, strangers, being held in the heart of our Savior. The author shares his experience and understanding of how we can practically love our strangers.
This book took me a couple attempts to read, but it was very much worth the effort. In the same way that, as Wendell Berry says, "racism is bad for racists," I think that our personal and societal treatment of people who are aging and perhaps losing their memory reveals a sickness in all of us. Embarrassment might be the first appropriate thing to feel when we detect the earnestness in our own voices, saying things like, "my mother isn't herself anymore" or "we don't visit because we don't want to remember him this way" or "she's not the woman I married." Euthanasia is a natural solution in the minds of some. And this is part of what Swinton is responding to in this book: what constitutes personhood? Let's get something straight: that person is still your mother, the inarticulate man is still your grandfather, the disoriented woman is exactly the person you married, body and soul. For far too long, the definition of personhood (and the definition of "Christian") has relied far too heavily on one's cognitive ability. But Christian theology is itself a rebuke of this, detecting how quickly this misunderstanding spirals us into anxiously trying to preserve and save ourselves.
This book was profoundly moving to me, not just in the context of working with adults who suffer from dementia, but also thinking of my own standing as a person and Christian. It is good news for ME that God remembers me when I forget God. And it's good news to me that a person is more than his/her vocabulary, more than his/her education level, more than his/her eloquence in prayer. This means we can relate to one another as persons, freely and honestly, without exclusion of anyone based on age or cognitive ability. And I think that to move closer to communing genuinely with our older (and younger) neighbors is a step towards health for all of us.
This challenging and helpful work of pastoral theology grapples with the most frightening of illnesses, dementia. John Swinton is the founding director of the Centre for Spirituality, Health, and Disability at the University of Aberdeen. He asks “Who am I when I have forgotten who I am?” To answer this using the lens of theology gives a different viewpoint.
As Swinton writes, “A basic premise of this book is that standard neurobiological explanations of dementia are deeply inadequate…. What is required is a different approach that not only includes the biological, psychological, and social dimensions of dementia, but also understands and recognizes the critical theological aspects.” He delivers well on this promise and raises important points relevant to other ways in which capacity may be seen as diminished.
The author shows how the various types of dementia must not prevent us from seeing “those who experience this pathology as unique people with feelings, hopes, loves, and joys.”
He accomplishes this beautifully while never diminishing the pain and tragedy, which cannot be avoided. For only in getting real about the pain and loss can we find a way to be with someone in the midst of dementia.
My words here fail to capture this important work of practical theology that has a challenge for the church in our keep to provide both in loving community for those with dementia and those who care for them as well as in seeing how we tend to cut people off from community people experiencing affliction. I can not recommend this book more highly.
Another source for my Caring for Alzheimer's patient caregivers in Pastoral Responses to Aging at Brite Divinity: Dementia is one of the most feared diseases in Western society today. Some have even gone so far as to suggest euthanasia as a solution to the perceived indignity of memory loss and the disorientation that accompanies it. In this book John Swinton develops a practical theology of dementia for caregivers, people with dementia, ministers, hospital chaplains, and medical practitioners as he explores two primary questions: Who am I when I've forgotten who I am? What does it mean to love God and be loved by God when I have forgotten who God is? Offering compassionate and carefully considered theological and pastoral responses to dementia and forgetfulness, Swinton's Dementia: Living in the Memories of God redefines dementia in light of the transformative counter story that is the gospel.
A refreshing and thoughtful approach to dementia. I found it helpful having had a mother who had dementia towards the end of her life. The book not only challenged how we see dementia but also how the church community relates to those with dementia too. The book goes much deeper by looking a the question “who am I” especially when the me who I think is me begins to disappear. Whether you have or know someone with dementia, are a pastor, or are someone who wants to know more about who I am in the eyes of God this is a book worth reading.
An engaging, interesting and carefully argued theological assessment of how we currently do, could, and should understand dementia. The core idea is that all our identities are partially in the care of other people, including God, anyway, and that this becomes clearer when we pay attention to people with dementia. I had some idea of the overall position Swinton would take, having heard him talk about this a few years ago, and found the finished product helpful, nuanced, and balanced. As so often with theological books from a mainstream Christian tradition, I had to apply a few pinches of salt to the sections about creation (I suspect Swinton doesn't disagree with me as much as it sometimes sounds like, given his respect for science and medical knowledge in the rest of the book... but he doesn't have space to go into his understanding of creation in detail and that sometimes makes him sound more literal about it than I'm comfortable with). On the other hand, he gets several plus points from me for excellent use of Wittgenstein! Overall, he brings together Biblical, philosophical, and theological ideas with medical, sociological, and psychological approaches in a way which is highly productive.
Dementia is more feared than cancer, but this book gives helpful ways to help those who suffer this affliction along with their caregivers. Love them – and love means that “I am glad you exist, I am glad you are here.” Give them the benefit of a doubt – that there is more going on than may appear evident. Visit them, care for them. And, theologically, to help them and their loved ones remember that while they might not remember God, God remembers them. I believe that the issue of dementia and Alzheimer's goes to the very basic roots of the Gospel message - that God comes to us and loves us, that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we can't pray for ourselves. There are many comforting Gospel promises and reminders. There are many helpful theological ways to help with this affliction and I am not sure I recommend this as the first one someone reads, but perhaps the 2nd or 3rd. The book is well researched and there are easier books to read. However, it does outline and support arguments thoroughly – presenting ways that our 21st century culture values people and contrasting that with how we should value people.