Happy elderly couple talking with their carer

“Whereas Alzheimer’s may be specified as a brain disease, dementia is an encompassing concept that can be used theologically to reflect upon the deterioration of a much greater realm of personal stimuli, including one’s social environment. A ‘dementing person’ may be said to have two forms of deterioration going on at the same time: a deterioration of the capacities of the brain to direct bodily functions and a diminishing social environment consisting of friendships, social contacts and self-significance. For Christians, dementia may also involve loss of faith, a distancing or seeming absence of God, an empty prayer life and other experiences.

Such a broad interpretation of dementia requires a paradigm shift like that introduced by early Christianity into the Greco-Roman world. For the incipient credibility of Christianity in the first century was that it was countercultural: it included Gentiles as well as Jews, slaves as well as Roman citizens, women as well as men. Jesus even included lepers, perhaps the equivalent of social outcasts that the demented have now become in our modern culture. All categories of people were treated as persons in Christ. The church, as in days of old, must take a countercultural stand in the twenty-first century regarding the unborn child and the senile alike, to treat all persons, not cultural artifacts, as wanted or unwanted, useful or useless, legacy or burden. We would argue that even if a demented person requires burdensome care, Christ is able to provide meaning for such care and the courage and capacity to set correct boundaries that protect the caregiver and the recipient of care. But we must be grounded in certain scriptural principles. We are all persons, all created ‘in the image of God,’ whatever our religious or ethnic origins. Yet between the first century and now, little help was given to the helpless, the insane and other vulnerable categories of humanity. Admonition to love the least of these helps give biblical purpose and meaning to the hard work of caring for someone who might not recognize or appreciate the care. With earlier diagnosis, the church may need to move into position to prepare those affected by the disease and those who choose to be lovingly present. Though the term caregiver is helpful, it represents a rather modern application of words that leaves out the word love.”

(James M. Houston & Michael Parker, A Vision for the Aging Church, p.188f.)