Families touched by Alzheimer's are a growing mission field. Residents with late-stage dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can sit in “church,” in an oak pew near an altar, or spend time in a living room with a view of a farmer combining his field–a “window” playing a continuous-feed video. These are 'period' stations at Perry Lutheran Home’s newly renovated memory care unit in Perry, Iowa. They can also revisit their school days in a classroom with an alphabet border, pictures of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and the American flag
“The goal is to connect people with some of their earliest memories,” said the Rev. Max Phillips, chief executive officer of this LCMS Recognized Service Organization (RSO). “And for many people of this generation [who are impacted by dementia], those earliest memories are of home, school and church.”
In May, this award-winning Christian care community opened St. John’s Memory Unit, its newest facility serving what Phillips calls a growing mission field.
Without a loan from LCEF, he adds, this much-needed renovation would have been impossible. “Almost everyone knows someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” Phillips said. “It may be a strange mission field, but it’s one where God is opening the door wide.”
It was a few years ago that Christ Lutheran Church in Bouton, Iowa, was looking for a mission field where the congregation could be a sustaining partner. Haiti was an option.
But rather than focus on another country, God “made it clear that we didn’t need to go all the way to Haiti,” said Phillips, who also serves as Christ Lutheran’s pastor.
The congregation saw a major need in nearby Perry, where a longtime home for the aged “was pretty much stuck in the 1980s.”
Today, Phillips calls Perry Lutheran Home–its residents, their families and the home’s staff–“our mission field.”
“It’s a little different, with a congregation so closely connected to what was once a nursing home,” Phillips said of the RSO, where he began wearing the CEO’s hat in 2011.
Since then, Perry has dramatically expanded services, caring for dementia patients from the earliest through the disease’s later stages.
Perry also used LCEF financing to build its St. James Memory Care Unit, a state-of-the-art facility for intermediate Alzheimer’s and dementia residents that has won statewide awards.
St. James also integrates sight, sound and even smells to create sensory-connected environments – stations that replicate familiar home and work settings.
Women who once nurtured children and cared for families can hold dolls and spend time in a replicated kitchen. Men gravitate toward the garage and car and truck cutaways with simulated “driving.”
Each station, Phillips explains, is designed to engage residents and stimulate memories.
Helping RSOs ‘Grow the Kingdom’
Perry Lutheran Home also reaches out to caregiving family members–often the ones most broken by the disease. “They are the ones struggling with the grief of losing their loved one’s memories, of giving care 24/7 at home,” he said.
By the time one enters a residential facility, the caregiver’s health and finances can be in shambles–a crisis Perry Lutheran Home addresses through “care for the caregiver” work with churches and other organizations throughout Iowa. Just as weary families appreciate a compassionate, helping hand, this pastor and CEO values LCEF resources that “help grow churches and also help Recognized Service Organizations grow the Kingdom.”
Along with “very competitive interest rates,” LCEF “understands ministry and is supportive of mission aspects a commercial lender might not see through a spreadsheet analysis,” said Phillips, an LCEF board member. At Perry Lutheran Home, those “mission aspects” include devotions and prayers with residents and their families – spiritual care Phillips also provides as the home’s part-time chaplain. “There’s no medical cure for Alzheimer’s, but there can be heavenly hope,” he said.