The entire worship service is kept short, no longer than 20-30 minutes, including a short homily. Persons with dementia have shortened attention spans and often become anxious when away from their caregivers.
The physical space used for the service should be inviting and accessible to wheelchairs, canes and walkers. It is a good idea to have someone in attendance who can provide a steady arm or assistance
Music is probably the most important, most accessible element of religious services for persons with dementia because it touches the heart and spirit through the senses and emotions bypassing "the thinking brain" that is devastated by dementia.
Religious music allows persons with dementia to experience a connection with their faith when they are no longer able to connect in the ways they once did.
It also provides them with a way of connecting with their family in a familiar and comforting setting where they can cope with their mutual grief and sense of loss over the devastation of dementia as well as experience their joy in sharing in community as a family once again.
The music and hymns chosen for the service are those that would have been sung and heard by participants when they were children or young adults.
The old hymnals, the old translations, the old versions rather than the new and revised materials are used.
Music that has been found to work well for different faith services for residents with dementia is used.
Selected readings, prayers and hymns (PDF, 18KB, 4pg.) illustrating themes of comfort, hope and steadfastness are used. Abstract discussions of theology are not useful in services for persons with dementia.
Sensory cues provided by religious objects and symbols (such as holy water, statues, candles, menorah, wine, rosary, prayer shawl, Communion Host, the old Latin or Hebrew language, incense, vestments, cross or crucifix, familiar prayer books, medals, scapular and the Torah) from the childhood and young adulthood of persons with dementia are used to help them to know where they are and to provide concrete objects rooted in long-term memory to stimulate retained behavioral abilities.
Other devotionals or religious practices that produce strong emotional memories of special religious holidays or events (Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter, Passover, Yom Kippur, May Day Crowning, Ramadan, Corpus Christi, Feast of the Three Kings, etc.) which were celebrated with special religious rituals and symbols by residents are recalled by adapting shortened versions of them to residents' functional abilities.
Other devotionals that are meaningful and may be remembered by residents with dementia are reintroduced to residents by interested volunteers or family. (For example: the rosary, stations of the cross, minyon for mourner's Kaddish, and other familiar prayers). It is important to obtain a spiritual history about the resident's past religious practices so meaningful spiritual experiences can be planned.