If you or the person with dementia you care for observes Ramadan, we have information to support you. Shree Mehta cares for her grandmother, Sharda, who has vascular dementia. Shree shares her advice for other Muslim carers.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is considered a holy and sacred month as it is the month in which the Qur’an - the central religious text for Muslims - was first revealed.
The dates for Ramadan change each year as Islam uses a calendar based on the cycles of the moon.
This year, Ramadan is expected to begin in the UK on 22 March, subject to the sighting of the crescent moon, and will last thirty days.
How is Ramadan observed by Muslims?
During the thirty days of Ramadan, most Muslims will fast from the break of dawn to sunset.
Abstaining from eating, drinking and not indulging in bad habits allows Muslims to focus on prayer and acts of charity while reflecting on their faith with family and friends.
Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with a joyous celebration called Eid ul-Fitr, the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast. They give thanks for the strength given to them while fasting.
Do all Muslims take part in spiritual fasting during Ramadan?
Most Muslims who have reached puberty are expected to fast during Ramadan, but there are exceptions.
Vulnerable members of the community do not need to fast for Ramadan. People who are ill, elderly, menstruating or pregnant should stay well-nourished and hydrated.
People with dementia are not expected to take part in fasting during Ramadan and may wish to observe the holy month in other ways.
How to have a dementia-friendly Ramadan
For many people with dementia, religious festivals and cultural traditions remain an important part of their lives.
It’s still possible for a person with dementia to be involved in holy events, like Ramadan, in a meaningful way.
If you are a carer for a person with dementia who is Muslim, you can help to recognise and respect the key values of Islam during Ramadan.
Social events during the sacred month of Ramadan
Taking part in social interactions, such as mosque visits or prayer gatherings with family and friends, could be beneficial.
Socialising and keeping active and involved can help the person maintain their social skills, and also their physical and mental wellbeing. It can also help to raise the person’s self-esteem and connect with others.
Shree’s story: ‘Reaping the rewards of Ramadan’
Financial consultant and family caregiver, Shree Mehta, shares how she intends to enrich her Ramadan by continuing to care and support her grandmother, Sharda, who has vascular dementia.
Balancing caregiver and spiritual responsibilities
For caregivers like myself, Ramadan can be an exceptionally demanding time.
We all have that never-ending to-do list — that compilation of all the responsibilities and information it takes to manage our loved ones and keep things humming along.
And on top of that, wanting to reap the rewards of fasting, prayers and preparing for the breaking of the fast / meals, are not easy tasks to be handled every day.
However, having balanced six Ramadans as a caregiver to my wonderful grandmother and alongside my demanding job, I wanted to share the four tips and focus points that I have found help me make the most out of the holy month.
1. Caregiving as a purpose
Caregiving is an act of worship that is often overlooked, when in fact, there are countless examples in both the Qur’an and Hadiths (sayings) by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that assure the importance of caring.
2. Practice self care
Observing a fast can lead to low energy levels and increased tiredness in parallel with the weather. We may feel this impact strongly as carers, especially in an ever-changing environment where our loved one may be facing new dementia challenges each day.
I think it’s especially important to ensure you make time for yourself to avoid burnout.
Caregivers should embrace self-care routines and ensure that personal time is allocated daily to enjoy the blessings of the month.
3. Remain patient
The month of Ramadan, whilst beautiful, is also a testing time in which we work to attain a level of patience we do not always achieve at other times of the year.
When hungry and dehydrated, especially whilst managing the needs and wants of our loved ones, it is easy to let our tired emotions get the better of us.
Responding with kindness and courtesy to our loved ones we care for provides an opportunity for khidma fana’a – selfless service - and offers a way to exercise the Islamic practice of patience.
4. Be kind to yourself
We carers do not always have the privilege of preparing and planning for Ramadan as each day brings new challenges, ones that we often cannot plan for.
So instead of providing tips on how best to plan and overly prepare for the month, I am here to remind you that everything that you do, for others and yourself, is enough.
Ramadan is the month in which the rewards for good actions have no limits, and the act of caring hugely counts towards this.
Ramadan is a month of mercy, and you should extend that to everyone you come in contact with during this month, but most importantly to yourself.
Reduce the urge to overfill your to-do lists and plans with more than you can cope with.
If you are reading this during the Ramadan period, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, please join me in welcoming Ramadan by saying "Ramadan Mubarak".