This is a long post: you can skip if it you want.
I reviewed the above book for a professional journal- my first attempt (I have subsequently been sent 2 more). The person who helped me to edit this review said I was ‘too kind’: maybe I was.
The author worked hard- obviously feels what she does, but I have seen too many people whose experiences have been ignored by an over ecstatic view of faith. I had to say something, but try to be graceful. The skilled reader should be able to read between the lines and see what I really think.
Louise Morse is a cognitive behavioural therapist who works as the media officer for ‘Pilgrims’ Friend’, a Christian charity that works with older people (http://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/) Across 10 chapters, this easy- to- read book offers practical advice for people on the dementia journey and their families, friends and churches. It aims to give spiritual (actually purely Christian) insights and hope. This is her 4th book in this area.
The consistent theme of this book is ‘hope’. In the opening chapter, Ms Morse aims to demonstrate how having hope, the insights of CBT and the Bible (‘Scriptural precepts really do work’)enable us to see situations that would usually give rise to despair in a different light. For her, CBT (p18) is “basically applied scriptural common sense”.
In the following chapters she expands this idea and gives many practical examples of people she has worked with, both dementia sufferers and their families. She also gives a very good summary of the differing types of dementias. This is done in a style that is very easy for someone encountering this for the first time to assimilate.
In chapter 4, she moves on to ‘the diagnosis dilemma’ and gives a well thought out, nuanced view of the complexities of diagnosis. She also highlights societal views of the elderly and the subsequent gaps in dementia care. Some of this proves salutary reading.
She returns to her thesis of ‘Hope’ in the next few chapters. A central sentence here is:-
‘The preparation we make for old age will … take us safely through the dementia journey’ (p70)’
She gives examples of recognising negative emotions and dealing with them as we approach old age. She shows how this can affect the perceptions of those suffering and those who surround them. This is widened to ‘learning to live the way God intended’ (p89) and there is evidence of a wide, though selective, reading of research, stories from around the world and biblical examples.
I think she is right when she talks about dementia friendly communities that connect, and there are many good, practical examples of how churches can nurture this both within and without their walls. There is also well thought out guidance on how to visit people with dementia. This section would repay repeat reading, whatever your theological view.
Caregivers are not ignored; indeed the need for a holistic view of dementia care is something that I warmed to. Caregivers are helped to see that they need to practice self-care and are given useful pointers as to how they might engage their family, friends and church community as well as their personal faith. Mindfulness is briefly discussed; the author has some reservations about the idea, but provides a useful alternative of ‘Christian mindfulness’ which she outlines in an appendix. I did feel, however, that there was an element of hubris in the statement ‘So I devised Christian mindfulness’ (p164). Some readers might find other examples of this in the book.
Inevitably, the book ends on a hopeful note, with Ms Morse’s closing sentence perhaps saying all that she has wanted to put across:-
‘Jesus will meet us at the point of deepest need, even in dementia, when all trace of Him seems to have gone from our world’. (p182)
Whilst there is much good in this book, I have some reservations:-
- It is encouraging and helpful to read stories of those who have negotiated the dementia pathway and have positive experiences; however many who have experienced the tragedy of this journey could feel disenfranchised by the flow of more upbeat stories. I feel more could have been made of biblical themes of lament and suffering which acknowledge difficulty and unanswered questions.
- Similarly, whilst the insights of CBT are helpful in encouraging us to see the same events in a different and more positive light, sometimes I feel that these insights can ignore or make light of very real pain or difficulties.
- The book is deeply grounded in the Bible, which is helpful; however, there is a lot of ‘proof texting’ which does not always support the point being advanced. I would have welcomed a deeper exegesis of a smaller number of passages. Similarly, the author’s own theological views, advanced without reference to other perspectives, could make this book only applicable to a smaller segment of the Christian community than could otherwise have been the case
- There are many asides in the book which may be more helpful in a conference setting and not always relevant to the force of the point being advanced. I found some distinctly unhelpful; for example, is the Welsh Assembly really the ‘last bastion of communism in the UK’ (p95)? After a while, some of these asides became distracting to otherwise heartfelt writing.
As a mental health chaplain I do not think I would buy it for my own use. Would I recommend it to anyone? Whilst I do not think it would meet the needs of a general readership, for those who share Ms Morse’s theological background it could prove helpful. Nevertheless, Ms Morse has, through her speaking and writing, succeeded in raising awareness of dementia in a church context that has not always dealt well with this issue.