Praying with Alzheimer's | Creighton University Online Ministries

Sharing the Experience:
Praying with Alzheimer’s Disease

Praying with My Mother| Rosary for Alzheimer's

     How generous of you to have a site with resources for individuals and their loved ones who are encountering dementia by any of its names! Thank you.

     From the diagnosis of probable Alzheimer's to my mother's passing was a very long 13 years. Her faith and spiritual practices, especially the rosary, brought her comfort in those early years. I have faith that they sustained and nourished her when she was no longer able to communicate or hold a rosary.

     There is no firsthand account of what was taking place with mom internally in the last years when speech departed and touch disturbed her. What can be shared are some of the movements in my life during this metamorphosis period.

     Mom was a standard-bearer of truth. Early in life I learned that the consequences of a lie were more severe than acknowledgment of error. Thus, when mom became confused with reality, I mistakenly "knew" she would want me to speak the truth to her. Yet, dementia changes things. A social worker kindly instructed me to the new reality and gave me permission to enter mom's world and find new ways to bring her comfort rather than rigidly correcting her every confused and paranoid perception. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was beginning to learn abandonment to God's will in our lives as never before.

     As time passed, mom became agitated with being touched. When I thought a hug, holding hands, gentle caresses would bring comfort, they did not. No longer could we connect intellectually, and now we could no longer do so physically. The pervasive ache deepened for me. I prayed God was working something else in her.

     My time with mom was spent in contemplation and prayer. "In what is the value of a life immobile and non-communicative?" God pointed me to look at all the wonders of creation around that do not speak nor do they interact with me in tangible ways, yet communicate effectively all I need to know or feel at the moment: rainbows, sunrises, glistening dew, trees, a plant on the windowsill... Again, God was teaching me to appreciate life for what it is, rather than as I would have it be. I thought of disabled children, unborn children, Jean Varnier's experiences... Mindfulness, living in the present with God and my loved one.

     Jesus on the cross was present in mom and I believe she was a willing participant. In part, her life was being used to draw me closer into the mystery. I was being saved again and again. Jesus' words to Peter that his arms would be stretched and others would lead him where he did not want to go brought an added, albeit multilayered, understanding.

     After years of no verbal or facial communications to anyone, my mother spoke clearly on her deathbed moments before her passing. She sat straight up, opened her eyes, and said, "I did not do that," in response to a misstatement my sibling uttered. Once again, the lesson was learned that my words, tears, prayers, actions, and presence were noted and processed somewhere in the being of my mom though she seemed to us to be unawares.

     God is ever present and at work always whether we notice or not.

Michelle Tope

She forgets Lord.
I have to keep telling her again and again.
Must I do this till the end?
I grow weary of retelling.
How to explain in a different way so maybe this time she will remember But she won’t, will she Lord?
Though she fiercely wants to remember.
And is frightened of the idea that she does not.
She is scared.
I too am scared of what may lie ahead.
Lord of time and space, remind us of the one truth That you are real That you care and that you are waiting for all of us in heaven.
If we can remember your love
Then that will be enough.
You love created us.
Your love sustains us.
Your love calls us home.
And you have said
I will never forget my people.

Elizabeth Slattery

I use your daily prayer guides and reflections to do a weekly prayer circle group on the Memory care unit at the nursing home where I work. I add in appropriate familiar songs that relate to the readings and reflection, as well as one song that supports the message but that they might not know as another way to enforce the message. I have them share their own prayers and petitions and write out intercessory prayers that the residents can read out loud to the group during that time. They also all say Psalm 23 from memory and the Serenity prayer. The group has become very important to the Residents.  Many Residents are able to verbalize their own worries or praises and open up with the group in the safe space we create with the songs and prayers. Certain family members come to this program, too and usually comment on the feeling of support that happens in the context of our prayer circle.  I am very grateful for the wonderful resources available on your site that have helped me envision this particular program. Thank you

My mother had this disease for several years.  It was a comfort for us to sit in  front of the nursing home, near the American flag, singing many patriotic songs for stretches of time.  She remembered more words than I could recall!   Sr. Marianne

My mom died after seven years with Alzheimer's.  She lived with my husband and I until the end, and I'm so glad we did that, tho it was difficult and, yes traumatizing, not just for Mom, but us too.  For the longest time I couldn't even watch a commercial on TV about Alzheimer's.  Well, low and behold, a few years later, God called me to teach His word, and where did He send me? To the Alzheimer division of a nursing home!  The patients listen, intently to scripture, and prayer, and so appreciate a loving touch on the hand.  Reminding them they are loved and respected.  Going again this Fri.  Can't wait!  Who woulda thunk.  : D

I am on the Homebound Ministries team for Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  Years ago, at a different Lutheran church, I was used to visiting a man with Alzheimer's.  If I gave him a form to fill out for church, he usually did it incorrectly, but the Lord knew what he needed.  On leaving him each time, it was a struggle to find the words for a connection.  When I began to say the Lord's Prayer before leaving, he fell in step, word for word, with me each time.

I currently visit someone else, and each time I include a prayer from the liturgy, she brightens up and can better attend.

I think if the person comes from a church with a liturgical background, it builds a wonderful connection to include some of their familiar words.  It really is wonderful to see the facial expressions when a connection is made.

Lynn S.

My husband prayed the rosary many times a day until he didn't seem to remember how. But in a nursing home he seems to know what he has to suffer. I think I am having a harder time losing him and get angry some days,

I witnessed both my mother and my mother-in-law go through this process each in turn and saw glimpses of what places and times and life issues they were re-living, re-experiencing, processing and releasing before passing out of this life.  It is quite an amazing process.  It is quite a gift from God that God allows people to sort out, resolve, process, and release their long buried and forgotten life issues so that they don't have to take that baggage with them when they pass out of this life. 

It's a gift....
for who would ever wish to bring the useless heavy baggage of one's unresolved violent childhood issues with one's alcoholic father to weigh down one's soul beyond this life?
Who would ever wish to bring the unresolved confusion, chaos, terror and violence of a buried forgotten childhood in the tenements of a warring foreign land as useless heavy baggage to weigh down one's soul beyond this life?
Nobody would ever wish to bring such pieces of hell with them to heaven! 

It is an amazing process to watch the body left on autopilot while the consciousness apparently re-experiences, revisits, processes, makes peace with and releases such things in order to leave them behind so that they cannot weigh down the soul beyond this life.

The relatives talked among themselves down the hall in frightened whispers. This could never be any sort of blessing; this curse!  It's understandable.  They saw what they saw, but they did not see enough.  People often don't see, not really.  It is of course a startling, frightening, horrifying thing to witness a consciousness that was here, (or more-or-less here), suddenly disappear into somewhere in space and time a thousand miles and a half century away, leaving the body completely on autopilot.  It's understandably startling and frightening for the relatives when today is a sunny morning and those eyes are open and look at them without recognizing them because that body is on  autopilot and today is also simultaneously in space and time some long lost day back in the 1920's when snow blew onto a child whose alcoholic father had just opened the door, coming home late at night in a bad mood. 

Everyone always asks the doctors "how long...?"  but no one can say....
How long would it take anyone to make sense of, process, release and heal the traumatic and/or unresolved, perhaps even long buried and forgotten issues of their own lives?
Mother-in-law took only a year to cross over, Mother took 3, but the man at the end of the hall took years.  He apparently had a lot more to have to sort out than they did, as his consciousness was apparently an ocean and a continent and a lifetime away trying to process what it was like to be 18 in the middle of a war...
No one could tell his wife and his sons how long it would take; nobody knew.
How long would it take you or me or anybody to process and release what it must have been like to have once been 18 in the middle of a war?  He had never wanted any of them to see that war.  He finally passed away of Alzheimer's in 2009.  

His prayer was the pilot's prayer.  Have you ever heard the pilot's prayer?  It asks for nothing and simply reaffirms the truth that God is.
High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Oh yes, he was right..... beyond all of it, God is.

Aura W.

Experiences with Prayer with my step-father, Otto.

As you know, Alzheimer's is so very hard to deal with emotionally, especially when the reocurring thoughts and words begin. My mother has been taking care of my step-father for almost three years. I tried to help out a little and spent several weeks there to try and give her some rest. Once, my step-father started saying, "where's  Mama?" After about the tenth time of answering him, I said do you ever just pray, because sometimes the only person who can understand you is God? I said, "you know one person cannot be everything you need." I said this not knowing whether he would comprehend or keep the thought. 

He said that talking made him feel better--I just tried to be compassionate, as there was nothing I could do to help. At times, it feels almost senseless to pray with loved ones who have Alzheimer's because you do not think they can remember any of what was said. But God remembers and God knows. God knows how we feel and how they feel. We also prayed over the food at the dinner table. This seemed somehow to give him a peace.

-- Cindy B.

My mother died January 10, 2010. She had alzheimers. She was in a nursing home since June, 2003. My father had to finally put her in a home because she was becoming violent and threatened to kill him because she thought he was a stranger. At that time, she didn't really know us except for some times she did know us.

My family and I watched her slowly just go away, not knowing us at all. My father went twice a day every day to feed her and make sure she was being taken care of. It was very hard on him and at the end he was in denial. When she finally refused to eat or drink, we knew the time was near.

The last three days of her life was a terrible time for us. All we could do was sit and watch her die. We prayed she would die peacefully. Our mother was very dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She always said prayers (when she could pray) and asked that the Blessed Mother would come to get her when she died. We had such a beautiful experience when she passed away. We were saying the rosary and when we got to the 4th mystery of the Glorious mysteries, we truly felt a "presence" there. We firmly believe the Blessed Mother came to get our earth mother to bring her home to Heaven. My mother was a very religious person and she was rewarded at her death. I know she is truly in Heaven now and knows everything that is going on.

It is very hard sometimes to understand why this happens, but I believe there is a purpose for this. She would have hated to have been a burden, as she would have said, to us. She would have been so embarrassed to know that someone had to feed her and change her and put her to bed. I believe she was serving purgatory on earth for a special reason. One that we may never know until we see her in Heaven. I try to think of the times when she was at home and worried whether we had eaten, or had a cup of coffee. She loved coffee. She loved her husband, her children and especially her grandchildren. She was such a loving mother and I miss her so much.

I was so happy when I found this site because I could connect with all of you who have been through the same thing as I have. May God Bless all of you and always remember that God is in control....

-- Geneva Fontenot

As I read the Respect for Life prayer, I am drawn to the following lines:

Strengthen us to bring comfort to the chronically ill.
Teach us to treat the aging with dignity and respect.

In the last few year’s my mother’s health has been declining. She suffered from a heart attack, had triple bypass surgery, is diabetic, and most recently diagnosed with dementia.

Dementia is a disease that robs a person not only of their memories but also of the most important existence of themselves, their dignity as a human being. Simple tasks for the individual become exhausting and frustrating and their emotions become very fragile and childlike.

As I care for my mom, I pray for the strength to find ways to comfort her in those moments of unknowing. I pray for strength to be unafraid of the future, especially when the moment comes in time when she will not remember me at all.

As I care for my mom, I pray that I will treat my mom with dignity and respect in those moments of frustration and fear. I pray that I will be able to help her maintain her dignity and respect as the woman and mother I grew to love, admire and cherish.

-- Laura Wright

I wish I had found your web site sooner, it is so helpful.  I have been a echaristic minister in a nursing home for many years. I would like to share with you one of my most enlightining and joyous moments with an Alzheimers patient.

Helen was one of my new patients, she was 82 and had alzheimers, as I began to pray with her she asked if she could pray with me, and as I began to pray she said "to do it her way", so we did, and to my surprise she began, "Bless us Oh Lord and These Your Gifts, Which We are About to Receive From Thy Bounty, Thru Christ Our Lord AMEN. She really left me with alot to think about.

Thanks Be TO GOD.

-- Pat Passmore A.O.P.

Dearest Mother, (Father/Sister/Brother) with dementia/Altzheimer's,
I understand that there are people you need to visit and talk to and issues that you need to heal and resolve and find peace with before you leave this world.  It's ok.
I understand that I cannot go with you when you revisit those places and those people once familiar to you and long gone.  You can close your eyes and go there and it's all just as real as I am standing here now.  You can even open your eyes and yet your consciousness can still be there, or partly there, with them, but they are all part of a world long gone. 

I never knew that world you lived in long before I was born.  I never knew that war before I was born.  I never knew that country across the ocean, that language I never spoke, those people who helped you, those people who hurt you, the sufferings and hardships and joys and pain and issues and lessons that were all once part of your life. I never knew. 

I can see that you wake out of revisiting them and that you do not recognize me because I am not part of that world that existed before I was  born.   I never knew those places and events you saw in life that I have never seen.  You allow me to see glimpses of them now and then but I still do not even recognize them... did you recognize me this time?  Perhaps not. I stroked your hair and blessed you and you called me Mother again, and so I will be Mother again, it's ok. The gentle comforting caring touch of the light of a loving heart was the first prayer of all, long before words were ever invented.

Thank You Lord God for giving us this opportunity to resolve and release our issues from this lifetime and not carry them on as burdensome baggage into the next life.
Thank You Lord God for giving us the understanding and strength to comfort and gently attend to the physical needs of this body left on autopilot, while this soul revisits all those people and places with which this soul seeks to find resolution, peace, and healing in life before crossing over into into the brilliant gentle white light of Your beautiful eternal love and care.  Amen.

I am a nurse and I have worked with Alzheimer's individuals for 11 years.  My father has a form of it and usually does not know what day it is.  He is in a Nursing Community and does not know it he is very happy and in his own world for this I AM GRATEFUL.  I have seen many who are not so lucky. 

Thank you for your suggestions.  I am a chaplain in a Catholic long-term care facility in Cincinnati where there are a number of Alzheimer residents.  In our case, they are all women.  I have used the psalms with success, particularly the more well known e.g. Psalm 23.  They love to hear songs they are familiar with from the past as well as some new simple ones that have a melody that captures them. Being in our church choir, these are often fresh in my mind.  "Alleluia he is Coming" is a big one. The biggest favorite of all is the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  They rise to the Glory Glory....What an experience to be able to touch those bits of light that still shine in their memories.  Any other suggestions would be appreciated: 


-- Bob FitzGerald, Chaplain
    Mercy St. Theresa, Cincinnati, Ohio

I am a research nurse with the University of Rochester and we conducted a study funded by the state of NY about Spiritual Care for persons with dementia.  In the two years of the study, I visited three nursing homes: a Catholic, Protestant and Jewish nursing home.  I am commenting on my experience as the project nurse, not the formal results of the study.  
1.   I believe all persons with dementia, no matter the degree, can benefit from spiritual care.  For some, it may be music, others formal prayer.  Often it is a touch or just  being present or reading or sitting with the person.

2.    It is important to speak with the person about what has given them meaning in the past..and now.  If the person can no longer speak, ask the family or friends about their spiritual practices.  Incorporate the information in the nursing care plan.

3.   All persons in the study equated "being" with "going to."  To them, being a good Catholic, Christian, or Jew meant their being able to attend services.  Often they were unable to go off the unit or felt they were imposing by asking for help, or in some cases, they missed meals by being off unit.  When staff became aware, they eliminated these barriers, had services on the unit or in the person's room.

4.   Persons often have tremors or weakness and are unable to hold bibles or song books.  They may not be able to see or hear well.  They may no longer understand words.  One facility had a large screen next to the altar with words or pictures flashed on it to help illustrate the gospel, song or prayer.  There are amplification systems to help with hearing impairments.

5.   Persons in nursing homes often feel isolated from a faith community.  Many denominations send weekly bulletins or cards to persons in nursing homes.  Some send CDs of sermons.  Others visit.  Before giving the person Eucharist or a medal or rosary, it is important to speak with staff to find out if there is a swallowing difficulty or a chance the person might ingest the religious objects.

6.   Many chapels off unit are carpeted making it difficult for persons in wheelchairs, holy water fonts are often too high for those in wheelchairs to reach.  Sometimes it is cold inside and often bathrooms are not nearby.  Try doing a "wheelchair survey" by getting into a wheelchair and going to chapel to see what barriers may be present.  Look at the font used for song sheets and bulletins.

7.   Many times a unit keeps a list of persons to be transported to services and if a persons is ill, their names are crossed off the list.  Make sure the lists are current and that persons are invited to services.  Do not assume anyone would NOT get anything out of a spiritual service or event.

8.   Most persons with dementia remember their prayers from the past.  It is nice to pray with the person, filling in the gaps as they arise.  Childhood and simple prayers are often the most loved.

9.   Remember, attention spans may be short.  Instead of saying the whole Rosary, break it down into decades and perhaps do one or two.  Use colored pictures to illustrate.

10.   Many people think they have to get out of bed to say prayers or the rosary, especially at night, and that has led to falls.  Give them permission to stay in bed to pray.

11. Persons who have difficulty sleeping at night and who are dying are often soothed by hymns and music.  Have CDs/player available for them.

12.   Go online for information about organizations that minister to persons with dementia or who are living in nursing homes, and learn from them.

    I have a friend who takes care of her husband with end-stage dementia at home.  She prays with him each night and then blesses him with holy water.  Now his non-Catholic aide has adopted this practice.  Caretakers at home should be remembered too, and are often overlooked, isolated, and in need of spiritual care too!

-- Margaret Lash, RN, MS, ANP

I have a Priest brother with Alzeimers for the past seven years starting his eighth year. He is a wheelchair. He does not talk but his smile and his eyes tell me he understands who I am.He is 70 years old. So many people ask me if he knows and I simply reply but I know him.

I too play music for him each day. He loves his Hymns sung by Andre Bucelli. He directed his music in his parishes for 32 years. At times his hand goes up and directs as Andre sings. It is very moving for me and at that times I believe he understands.

I am with him quite often during the week. I bring him Communion each Sunday. When I have said a Prayer before he receives, when I say The Body of Christ he still puts his tongue out. My hand usually shakes because it touches me very dearly.

I hold his hands quite a lot I firmly believe touch does something for him.

I am a Sister of Charity of Charity of Halifax Nova Scotia. I am retired and my Community have given me the permission to be with him. I receive lots of support from my Community and friends.
-- Sincerely, Sr.Anna.

I have tried praying the Our Father several soft religous peoms and psalms the residents seemed to enjoy that.  I would this week like to open the prayer group with a religous tape with kum by ya , here i am lord, and eagles wings, avai maria and the our father prayer in song.  I will email you  back and let you know if they enjoyed the music.  I also passed out picture cards of jesus and mary.  we have a half our of prayer and i would love to hear other suggestions.

In Memory of My Aunt Ardell…..

So sweet and kind, is what I see in her eyes.  Who was always there for me.  Whatever was my trouble, she would simply say, if you can not do anything about it do not worry or be afraid.  Which is also what my heavenly Father tells me.

Her disease makes me worry and at times be afraid, but her reassuring words lift me up.  God knows where she is in her journey back to him.  I am starting to think her young memories are all that are left in this life, and her true spirit is Almost to Heaven. 

She is now like a little child, which allows me to see her as she was long before I was on this old earth.  She talks of ages gone by with my mother, who loves her so, and they seem so bonded when this is going on. 

I miss talking to her, but I can always close my eyes and see her sweet smile and reassurance it will all be alright.  Somehow I believe she is right.  I am willing to not worry and be afraid as I know this is what I have to do until we see each other again.

Thank you God for my Aunt Ardell.

Previously I wrote of my mother’s Alzheimer’s and prayer. Now I may get off topic because I so want to share. I will write of my father’s dementia, less defined, somehow more cruel to him and his children than my mother’s diagnosed Alzheimer’s.

We denied his decline. That became a final problem that stirs guilt in a couple of his six children eight years after his death.  Particularly, I denied his dementia when he was admitted into the hospital where he died. He might have been allowed our close company and care at the end had I not exaggerated his mental well being.

He was admitted to the nearby hospital for a severe G.I. bleed. My brother and I persuaded our reclusive father to let us take him there, with the promise that at least one of his children would be with him in the hospital and one with his befuddled wife at home at all times. I was with him when he was moved into to a hospital room in the early a.m. There a young woman with a laptop computer switched on lights and alarmed his also-elderly roommate.  She asked questions which my father answered with bravado, even though she continually looked to me. I didn’t realize her typing would be the report doctors would use. She seemed so young and unprofessional that I discounted her – the very thing I didn’t want the medical professionals to do to my father. So I credited him with more wits than he possessed; I didn’t correct his misstatements, particularly about his daily beers (a need by then). I was with him through later morning tests when a tech admitted me into a procedure attempting to identify the location of the bleed for cauterization. The procedure failed; the tech conducting it put the tracing chemical into the transfusion line instead of into his vein, even though he was cautioned by the new nurse “temping” there. Afterwards, my father -- pleading with me to stay with him -- was ripped away into and out of a surgery that never took place. I later learned it was cancelled by the chief surgeon, the well-dressed doctor who had introduced himself to me in a hallway and asked whether we wanted medical intervention or were ready to let the elderly person go; I’d replied that if it would heal him, yes, but not technical heroics unlikely to benefit him (whatever my proper wordiness meant). I did tell the surgeon my father was a vital man, again concealing his dementia to increase his human value in the medical setting.  

I’m left knowing that my lies were what tore my father from the children who promised to stay with him. We were allowed mere minutes in the intensive care unit. My father was strapped down in panic and alternately drugged. We were told it was necessary because he might pull out the shunt in the main vein of his groin. We could have soothed him had I made his dementia clear; his sad son and drinking buddy could have given him a beer  -- a real possibility that the young woman during intake had mentioned was available for those who regularly drank (if I had told the truth). I had a secret motive for hiding his dementia during intake: we hadn’t taken away his control to get him a haircut, shave, dental work or toe nail clipping -- it suddenly seemed like elder neglect; I protected myself.

I recall that your topic was praying with someone with Alzheimer’s. I’m off topic. I prayed, though not with him, unless you count the excerpt I read to him in the hospital from one of his old books by Rev. Fulton Sheen, a light and warm passage that reversed the order of birthdays to increase the joy in celebrating the later ones, nearer the other birth into eternal life.

I’ll describe intense prayer, mine, in anger and disgust, challenging and demanding that God in his hideous plan make use of every ounce of suffering I witnessed my father endure during three or four days strapped to a hospital bed where he experienced every fear of hospitals that he had over the years expressed to us. In the end, I had walked straight into then out of ICU where I saw my father unmoving, arms outstretched, legs together, naked on his bed (yes, appearing crucified), sheets on the floor, area in disarray, not breathing, not pronounced dead. I told my waiting siblings – waiting for the professionals in charge -- that he was truly dying. I left and drove the ten blocks to my parents’ house. Alone in the car there, I raged those non-pious prayers. Then I went inside to relieve my older sister who was with our mother. She and I knew our father was as good as dead. She’d watched the monitor during her visit an hour ago; the other four siblings were less experienced, more hopeful. My sister returned to the hospital. I sat in my mother’s blue plaid recliner. I picked up her rosary, her toy now, with blue glass beads (gift from her last donation to a mission). My own childhood training yielded something as I held the unfamiliar rosary. I prayed a version recalling instances of Mary’s recorded life from the New Testament and focused my eyes on a part of the window sash that formed a cross. The beads were hot when I finished. My big sister returned and told me to go the hospital to be with the others. When I got there I found that the hospital had done a kind thing for his survivors: they had rearranged my now clean and peaceful father, neatly tucked in white linens surrounded by a warm, inflated cocoon, and connected to a breathing machine and a monitor with sounds and lights. There we all gathered, held his hands, feet, forehead, cheeks, and said good-bye and many, many thanks to him.

Simply put…
I am a pastoral care minister in a long term care facility.
I need some feed back on Alzheimer’s attending Mass in a LTC facility..
If they become disruptive and or annoyed  what do is your advice.

I need aid in providing education for the LTC Nursing Staff to understand… this point of distraction.
Any item of education would be most welcomed.
-- Sr. Christina SHS

I'm not actually sure how I stumbled onto this website, but I did.
We lost my step-father David to Alzheimers. It was horrible, to watch this person you love disappear.

When I read through the summary prayers that you have listed, it makes me feel the pain & confusion that David must have felt. My heart goes out to anyone who has loved ones that have this disease.
Thank you for a beautiful way to give glory to God and bring understanding and comfort to those associated with Alzheimers. I will pass this on to others.
-- Sue P., Johnstown, PA

My mother's name is Rosita Rodriguez.  If you ask her for her name, she can tell you that she is Rosita Rodriguez from Manila.  That's all she knows now.  She does not know any of us, her children, anymore.  If she asked me my name, she can connect it with my childhood nickname but that's about it. 

We have been blessed that she has a sweet personality and still very much has the desire not to offend anyone.  She is very polite and is quite aware that she does not know anything anymore.

We get blessed everytime we visit Mama.  She blesses us with everything we do and say.  She always tell us that she will have a mass said for us and that she always keeps us in her prayers.  We know that she cannot do any of those anymore but deep within her heart, she knows of God.  She knows of Jesus and this is one thing that has not left her.  We feel very blessed that even if she's forgotten all of us, including my father, she has not forgotten the Lord.  She still constantly speaks to Him.

She seems to be physically strong and I ask the Lord every so often why my Mom has Alzheimer's.  We have not experienced with any of our older relatives.  But my sister says that this could be for our growth - growth in patience and in love for the mother that gave everything to show us how to love.  We love her back by caring for her.

It is good to be able to share this.  May all those who care for Alzheimer's patients be blessed with our Lord's strength and love.


-- Virginia M, California, USA

Thank you so much for this site it has moved me deeply. May I share an experience with you that may also help others? Some years ago I suffered a very frightening memory loss. It was truly the most frightening experience I ever had had in my life. I felt completely lost and disorientated, fearful also for the future.

It was difficult to pray but I began to pray the Suscipe, which was difficult, especially offering "my memory" but it was probably the first time I really prayed as well as recited that prayer. It was really difficult to mean it, gritting my teeth and  by God's grace I stayed with it. Bit by bit peace and courage was given to me. Quite a time later I found myself working as a chaplain with people suffering with Alzheimers and other memory-loss illnesses and in some extraordinary way I was able to enter into their world, at first with fear but gradually with an understanding that enabled me to be alongside them and a growing realization that communication is deeper than words.
-- Mairead

How thankful I am for the information and prayers on the Creighton website concerning Alzheimer’s!   My Father was afflicted with this dreadful disease and  I and my family cared for him for 33 months.  This was in the mid 1980’s and there was really no assistance and not much information at the time.  In fact, after he passed, I started a support group in our area to assist caregivers.  

Recently, I entered a poetry contest  and the topic was the healing power of music.  That immediately triggered
my memories and brought up some which were buried deep within my heart.  They gave birth to the following poem.


The silence was staggering
It took away my breath
The voices had no meaning
There were no words left

Empty stares were pleading
For someone to understand
Hearts within were yearning
For someone to hold their hand

For this silent group of people
In an Alzheimer’s home
Lives are like a stairless steeple
While silently they roam

Memories are missing
Faded into a hole of black
Can they even think of wishing
For it all to come back

My Daddy is among them
No longer fully sane
From wholeness to loss he’s come
He doesn’t know my name

He can’t tell me if he’s hurting
Or if he wants to go to bed
He cannot say I love you
He is like the walking dead

Yet when the music starts
And the choir begins to sing
The magic does its part
And tugs on his heart strings

It stirs the group of them
They begin to clap and dance
The sounds of old time hymns
Have broken their black trance

The sounds of song have brought
Their lives back for a time
And the melodies have caught
Their hearts and mine.

Nancy Toth, March  15, 2009

Thank you so much for this beautiful prayer and your thoughts with it. I read your piece about your experience with your mom and it brought tears to my eyes.
My dad is getting older and we're starting to worry whether he might possibly be developing Alzheimers or something similar, we're not sure and lately he seems better. But it's something hanging over our heads that we have to wait and see.
Your sharing gave me immense comfort, as it helped me to change my thinking a little and realise that if it does happen to dad then in some way we can still serve God and glorify God as this happens to dad, and that God would enrich our lives and build our characters through the experience, even if it is an experience with heavy crosses to bear.
So thank you so very much for easing some of my fear for the future, and I pray for you, your mother and your family for strength and God's grace to deal with this disease and the fear it brings. I pray for peace and happiness for your mom.
God bless you

As a hospice chaplain, I have the privilege of praying with several patients with Alzheimer’s disease.  What I have found MOST helpful is to pray the Our Father which is familiar and then perhaps sing “Jesus loves me” or if the person is Catholic, perhaps “Immaculate Mary”.  These seem to trigger a memory from deep within.

Once I was with someone who seemed to have no connection, but as I started to gently sing “Jesus Loves Me”, she sang along and made eye contact for the first time!  It was beautiful!

Thanks for this opportunity to share.
-- Mary Jo, Illinois, USA

As an Eucharistic Minister who visits patients in the hospital, I have witnessed the healing comfort prayer can bring to so many desperately ill people, including those who are afflicted with Alzheimers.

Last fall, I was called to minister to an elderly man brought to the hospital for treatment of pneumonia. The poor gentleman was in the end stages of dementia and clearly agitated by the new surroundings. His daughters informed me that their Dad ‘wasn’t really a religious man’ and ‘had left the Church years ago’.

To offer comfort to his daughters, I suggested we form a small circle around the bed and pray a Hail Mary and an Our Father with each of his daughters holding a hand or touching a shoulder. As we did this, their father suddenly became quiet, closed his eyes and relaxed. Amazingly, his blood pressure and heart rate lowered.

I later learned after he was discharged back to his care facility, his daughters now take turns reading the Psalms to him and reciting basic prayers. They have found he seems more at peace during these times and if done earlier in the day, his agitation level decreases.

My mom is in advanced stages of Alzheimer's  - declining for 5 yrs now. Lately they stopped wheeling her down to Sunday mass, telling me she is too out-of-it. When I wheeled her down to chapel she started commenting (rather loudly) about how big the space was & asking me what date it was. When I whispered to her that it is communion time at mass she recollected herself & as I sang with the congregation "He Will Raise You Up" she began to sing all the words as clearly as a choir member! I'm tearing up just writing this, she immediately returned to her very confused state but we had that moment with the Lord - all is gift.

-- Joan, Massachusetts, USA

Somehow (not one to take charge or volunteer), as my mother’s abilities were decreasing, I started dressing her for bed. My 85-year old father appreciated the routine because it made the change from day to night clear to her (and him). After I’d guide her to bed, we’d sit together on the side and look at a holy picture bearing an image she knew in childhood, that of a guardian angel leading a boy and girl across a bridge with missing planks. She’d smile over the angel and sometimes fret about the children’s safety. I’d show her that they were nearly stepping onto solid ground. Then we’d read the familiar prayer on the back, “Angel of God, my Guardian Dear….” Next she’d hold the rosary (we never were pious – tried whole rosaries as a family in the 50s, settled for Bishop Sheen TV shows later), and we’d say an Our Father and Hail Mary, later reduced to the Hail Mary alone. As she started to lose those words, my father, ever vigilant and listening in the kitchen, walked into the bedroom and filled them in. That moved my beyond words. His preference for conversation was politics, crooks, the past, impending hurricanes (before Katrina), and constant alerts to all loved ones around him: Watch that (paring) knife, Stupid, you’ll lose a finger. “…Pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

It’s a tough road, caring for a loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Once I was so tired yet determined to lift my resistant mother from her chair to tuck her in bed (why not let her sleep in her chair that night?), that I grabbed her from the front, under her arms, and pulled her to her feet, throwing both of us backwards onto the sofa. She told me she didn’t like me, that I was getting mean. I wholly agreed. Now the memory makes me laugh. I was foolish. You can’t lift a patient that way. Always get behind.

Respectfully offered,
Sally S.
Loyola University New Orleans

In my former capacity as Social Services Coordinator at a 100% free standing Skilled Alzheimer’s nursing facility in Rapid City, I observed many occasions of prayer between volunteers, family, staff and residents in late stage Alzheimer’s. When residents, who were no longer verbal, participated in saying the Rosary, led by volunteers, one could see their mouths moving and fingers moving as they passed the beads through their fingers. They may not have said the words, but they were engaged in the process. The same thing occurred during Mass, even though they were not able to vocally participate, they were very aware of what was been said and done. My favorite experience was when I was assigned to assist a Catholic resident in eating his noon meal. He had been refusing to eat and was quite agitated during the meal times. I began by telling him we would begin by saying our customary meal prayer. I made the sign of the Cross which he did as well, and said the blessing. He ate 100% of his meal that day and I asked to be assigned to assist him with his meals when I was Manager on Duty. He continued to respond in the same way and we put it on his care plan for staff to do prior to each meal. His eating did improve and he was less agitated at meal times. Prayer works even for those who are severely impaired by Alzheimer’s.


I am writing this on May 12, 2007.

My Mother is in the end stages of Alzheimer's. She has been in a Senior Care Facility that specializes in Alzheimer's patients since February 13, 2006. She is no longer walking or talking. She stays in a wheelchair during the day and needs help feeding, dressing, toileting, etc.

In January of 2006, she was in her "violent" stage. She was still ambulatory and still saying a few words, although not usually making sense and not in complete sentences. She was in the "jealous" phase of the disease and would try to hit and throw things during her "sundowning" time of the day.

My father was still taking care of her 24/7 at that time. He brought Mom to my home in January, 2006 to take care of her for 4 hours while he went to a doctor's appointment. Although I had lived in my home for 20 years, she no long recognized my home and became very confused and violent. She was throwing things and tried to beat me with her fists (she weighed 180 lbs., and I weighed 120 lbs.). For two hours, I was trying to save my possessions and avoid her fists. At one point, I had backed myself into a corner and knew I was going to take a beating.

In desperation, I began praying the "Our Father" out loud. She stopped, got calm, and began praying with me - word for word. We finished the prayer together and then I began the "Hail Mary". She prayed that prayer word for word. During these prayers, I was able to work my way out of the corner. She worked herself back up into a rage and I avoided being trapped in a corner after that.

I was amazed at how she was able to recite these prayers word for word and the calming effect they had on her - at least the first time. It didn't work after that. I have shared this story with many people and was surprised to run across your website that related the same thing.

My mother has always had a strong, deep faith and this experience deepened my faith. The brain may be disintegrating, but our souls are always with God.

God Bless,
-- Jeanette D.

Sometimes beautiful poetry and hymns
reach deep into the heart and soul and bring comfort
to Sufferers and Carers alike,
as in these two extracts:

"And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day."

Extract from "Morituri Salutamus" by
Henry W. Longfellow

The 'stars' that are the beautiful person's characteristics,
never fade away and teach us very much about so many things.

And this one:

"Walk with me Oh my God
Through the darkest night and brightest day
Be at my side Oh God
Hold my hand and guide me on my way.
Help me to pierce the mists
That cloud my mind and heart
So that I shall not fear
The steepest mountain side"

by Estelle White

-- Submitted by Ann R., UK

As a controlling priest (former Passionist) become confessing disciple and contemplative caretaker I pray for my precious wife Joan suffering from severe memory loss. But I also pray for an ego-dominated clerical church suffering at times from so much memory loss. We don't have all the answers for life is a mystery...God is a mystery...and the church is a mystery. Blank screen! Now we cafe Christians surrendering all swirl around in the sea of God's comforting uplifting and healing presence as we ride the wave of miraculous blessing. As an OSL chaplain endorsing worship wellness I continue to affirm sin disease and death have no power over us. Released from both hospital and nursing home into my care my precious wife Joan blesses me every day so that I might be a blessing to others!
-- Alan M.

Prayer for a Mother with Alzheimer's Disease

"Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding,
my entire will... Give me only your love and your grace and that is enough for me." Ignatius of Loyola

Loving God,

Please bless every mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.

She was with us children as we learned to walk.
-- Guide her uncertain steps today as her balance fails her.

She taught us to cross streets and be safe.
-- Help her not to get lost, even in her familiar surroundings.

She held us close in the terrors of the darkest nightmares.
-- May she not be frightened today by the reality of her life, which is strange and totally out of her control.

She cooked thousands of meals over decades of time.
-- Please allow her to accept the caring hand that now feeds her.

She changed diapers, Lord, and served you each time she did.
-- Please give her now the humility and grace to be served in this way.

Loving God, the familiar eyes of my mother
now respond with a blank stare.
She is unable to carry on a conversation,
to ask about her family
or to serve in the central role she has had in our family.

Help her accept the surrender of her life these days.
Open her prayerful heart and fading mind
to be aware of your presence with her,
perhaps now closer than ever.

Give us, her family, the patience, courage and acceptance
to love her as she is and to support her in her daily needs.

From the Online Ministries, Prayers by and for Mothers

I wish to thank you for this website. A friend passed it on to me and it has been incredibly helpful for my father who is well into the mid-stages of dementia. I notice that he is the most upbeat after mass or the rosary because it is something he has not yet lost.
I love the Catholic church for keeping ritual for us to call upon in later years when everything must seem so foreign and strange. Dad finds much comfort in the familiar words and and actions.

Bless you;
-- SH

I was once a Caregiver to an absolutely wonderful lady afflicted by Alzheimers.

She was a joyful, warm hearted person but sometimes in the flashes of lucidity used to become very upset when she realised the state she was in.

Sitting down with my arm around her and reading a psalm to her was something she used to find greatly comforting.She was a very faith filled person and I learned so much from her and will never forget her.
Below is an imaginary letter from a Sufferer to a Caregiver.

With every good wish,
Ann R. (UK)

An Imaginary Letter From A Dementia Sufferer to A Care Giver:

My very dear Care Giver,

When you read this, please try not to consider me an ungrateful wretch. I am truly grateful for all that you do for me but I would like to try to explain how I often feel.
This illness is a robber. It is robbing me of all that made me the person I am and I am so afraid that I will come to be looked on as an ‘it’ , a ‘sufferer’ rather than ‘me’. I am still here. Often I cannot express myself and it may seem like I no longer care but if you only knew how much I do care. These are some of the things I care about.

My clothes. I always took such pride in looking well groomed and smart. Sometimes now, you forget to ask me what I would like to wear and I would so much like you to try to involve me in these choices.

Our meals. You cook very well. I used to love to cook too and it would be so welcome if you sometimes talked to me about the meals you are planning for us.

The house. I do not mean to be obsessive, but sometimes I feel like a stranger in my home when you start to move things around ; furniture perhaps, or ornaments. It would be good if we could talk about this together.

All these things are like little bereavements or losses to me. I am so frightened when everything, including my mind seems to be slipping away . You are my only anchor and I need you to try to understand how important it is to me to still be treated as the person you used to know, and hopefully still love. Demonstrations of affection mean so much to me. Hug me sometimes, please?

I know how trying it must be for you. Should we have a little shed filled with old china so that you can go there sometimes and have a ‘smash up’ to make you feel less frustrated?!

I may as well admit too that I am apprehensive of death which is surely drawing nearer. Besides the suffering, it is fear of the unknown, of a change of world. Teilhard De Chardin, whom I used to find so encouraging said that there must be terror and bewilderment when one has to pass from one to another but if one can surrender oneself totally to God it makes us enter into Him. It becomes an active reality. One more phase in a world and a ‘becoming’ that are those of our own experience.
It would help if you would sometimes read a Psalm with me.

This is not meant to sound morbid or melancholy. It is just an attempt to explain some of the things which frighten me and in which your patience and your love are such a strength to me.
Underneath all this I am still the old familiar me with many frailties but with a sense of humour and a deep care for others.

Please take my hand as we journey on together and as Tiny Tim said in Charles Dicken’s “ A Christmas Carol” ‘God Bless Us One and All’

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