Remembering the Creator When Our Memory Fails Us

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Jim Tan, one of our members, wrote this article which was first published in Salt&Light. He shares reflections on Ecclesiastes 12 on how we can continue to remember our Creator when we face the struggle with dementia, and how caregivers can also encourage this memory. 

Does our faith change in substance when our memories fail us? How does God view us if we forget the Creator we passionately served in our youth due to dementia? Can salvation be guaranteed if we cannot remember the decisions we have made? These are some real questions facing dementia patients and their caregivers.

In Ecclesiastes 12, the Wise Teacher counsels his readers to remember their Creator in their youth, before the days of trouble approach in verses 2 to 5. These troubled days could reference days of environmental and national calamity, it may more directly, simply point to the physical and mental deterioration of the individual, as we age and grow old. We see that narrative played out in verse 3, “When the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim.” 

Bible commentators have pointed out that these keepers, strong men, grinders, and their decline, point to the physical conditions of the human body, when our backs don’t hold up, our joints fail and our teeth fall out. As an eldercare professional, I can attest that the loss of grinders (teeth) is common among elders, thankfully that’s something that dentures can address. The loss of one’s cognitive and physical abilities due to illness, however, are irreversible conditions in this present life.

Dementia is a syndrome that affects a person's abilities, including memory, thinking and behavior. It is a common condition among older adults and can have a significant impact on their quality of life, and a direct impact on the spiritual perspectives of these elders. How can someone fear God and keep His commandments, as Ecclesiastes 12:13 instructs, if they suffer from memory loss? If someone forgets their faith decisions, is their faith still valid? As the world's population, and especially Singapore’s population continues to age, the number of people living with dementia is expected to rise dramatically in the coming years. Providing adequate care for these individuals is essential to maintain their health and well-being, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Care for individuals with dementia involves providing support and assistance with daily living activities, such as grooming, feeding and mobility. It also involves creating a safe and comfortable environment for them to live in. One important aspect of dementia care is creating a structured routine for the individual. This can help them maintain a sense of familiarity and reduce confusion and agitation. Adding faith elements into the care routines, the age-old adage of “go to church regularly”, “read God’s Word”, and “praise God in songs”, are fortifying routines for spiritual care.

Colossians 3:16 instructs readers to  “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." 

In caring for elders to continue their faith journey, reminders in word (trusted pastors on and songs (familiar hymns on Spotify) can add to creating that spiritually safe environment, to steer the soul’s recollection of the creator. Here are some practical steps caregivers can take,

  1. Spiritual Songs: Note down favourite hymns of your elderly family members. Work through a list of genres comprising adoration, supplication, confession and thanksgiving. If your elders are musically inclined, factor in vocalist and instrumental considerations.

  2. Words of Wisdom: Find out who were trusted pastors in their lives, and curate a list of top ten sermons, with a special focus on the Gospels. This will help bring remembrance of their faith commitments and their spiritual journey.

  3. Visuals Aids: Collate memorable pictures that involve the gathered community of saints (Heb 10:24-25). It could be pictures of church camps, volunteer events, maybe even trips to Israel! These will help reinforce the community aspects of the faith in their immediate care surroundings.

  4. Believe that God transcends the temporal suffering today and guarantees salvation for all who truly believe in Him (Jn 3:16). This is especially important for caregivers engaged in long-term dementia caregiving.

Ecclesiastes 12 concludes that God will bring all deeds into His final accounting. This is an affirming note on the all-knowing and unchanging nature of God. Against dementia, this illness that threatens to remove remembrances, God never forgets. Though we may forget Him due to the ravages of this fallen world, God’s assurance is that all those that have been given to Him will never be snatched away from Him. A promise for all times etched in His unchanging Word.