Must read on dementia and religion: RNS series offers interesting, informative coverage

What he said.

Once again, Adelle M. Banks has produced a story — actually, make that a series —  that illustrates why she’s one of the best journalists on the Godbeat.

Banks, production editor and national reporter for Religion News Service, is known for her balanced, impartial journalism. Regardless of the subject matter, it’s generally impossible to tell which side Banks favors because she treats everyone so fairly.

Last year, her story on a 75-year-old sanitation worker reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination was one of my favorites.

And now — in a world of nonstop hot takes on why 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump — Banks has tackled another fascinating subject off the beaten path.

It’s a series on dementia and religion that is filled with interesting, informative details and respected, knowledgable sources.

And the lede? It’s pretty much perfect:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (RNS) — When geropsychologist Benjamin Mast evaluates dementia clients at his University of Louisville research lab, there’s a question some people of faith ask him:

“What if I forget about God?”

It’s a query that reflects the struggles of people facing diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The earliest stages of Alzheimer’s involve the buildup of protein fragments, or plaques, on some brain cells and the growth of twisted fibers, or tangles, within those cells. That process, Mast said in an interview, “damages a particular aspect of the memory system more significantly than others.”

In his book, “Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease,” Mast describes a man who may not always remember his grown children’s names but “quickly joins in” when someone reads one of his favorite psalms.

Mast said what remains intact is the part of the memory that’s held longest. In some cases, that relates to faith: hymns and creeds that people may have recited for years.

At this point, I probably should disclose that I write occasional freelance pieces for RNS and even work directly with Banks from time to time. However, I’ve admired her work much longer than I’ve had that part-time gig. And you can judge for yourself whether her latest work is as exquisite as I say.

It’s a subject matter with which I have a little experience: I profiled an Alzheimer’s patient at a Christian senior center in Texas in 2016 and did a sidebar on “Music for the soul” touching those with dementia.

After opening in Louisville, the RNS series moves to Pennsylvania:

RICHLANDTOWN, Pa. (RNS) — The seven women, most in wheelchairs, sat in a semicircle facing stained-glass windows and an altar topped with a cross and a statuette of Jesus holding a lamb. Underneath the draped table was an ark-shaped container brimming with small stuffed animals.

“Spirit Alive,” a weekly multisensory worship service for people with mid- to late-stage dementia, was about to begin at a United Church of Christ-affiliated skilled nursing center 50 miles north of Philadelphia.

The Rev. Jamie Moyer carried out the day’s theme of creation by leading “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” holding up pictures of colorful flowers and passing out the soft toys, with each woman choosing one to hold.

“God looked at you and said, ‘Oh, I created you, Ruth,” she said to one resident, as she held up a mirror to the woman’s face and went around the semicircle to affirm each person. “‘I love you very, very much.’”

The 45-minute service, held at each of Phoebe Ministries’ four nursing homes, is one example of how faith leaders are moving beyond traditional worship services to provide a spiritual space for people with dementia. Experts say retirement communities and congregations need to incorporate ways of not only caring physically for people with dementia but also helping them to continue to have a quality of life that may include a spiritual dimension.

I haven’t seen the third part yet, but I’ll add a link here when it’s published. Check that — it’s online now. I can’t wait to read it.

Trust me: The entries series is worth your time.

Kudos to Banks and RNS!

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