Dementia and unmet spiritual needs in Northern Ireland

This page is about a focus group exploring unmet spiritual needs of people living with dementia, leading to more dementia-friendly church services.

Dementia-friendly church service group in Northern Ireland 2019

(Photo by the Belfast Telegraph)

The Purpose

The aim was to learn about how better to support the spiritual well-being of people with dementia, and carers. 


People with dementia and carers were recruited to a focus group. They all described their spiritual needs not being met on account of dementia. They all agreed to explore this through group discussion.

What happened

The focus group highlighted the issues they faced when accessing regular Sunday services. They suggested changes that would make a service more dementia-friendly.

The results

The Alzheimer’s Society collaborated with William McCandless Church warden and Cannon Cutclife from St Patricks Church of Ireland in Coleraine, to implement an action plan that would make changes the focus group members wanted to see

  • they designed the service to have more hymns (avoiding more modern Mission Praise songs
  • the sermon was agreed to be 5 minutes long
  • there would be a reading delivered by a person with dementia
  • there would be a social aspect after the service.
  • the service would be held during the week, as Sundays could be quite busy for some of the people affected by dementia who would be attending.

After the first service, Alzheimer’s Society Support Worker and Volunteers used 121 conversations to gather feedback from people with dementia, and carers. They asked about what worked well and where improvements could be made. 

What changed for people with dementia

People with dementia attending preferred the older style hymns. They found the short sermon much easier to concentrate on, and appreciated the opportunity to socialise with other church-goers.

This service has been such a success that the organisers decided to hold a dementia-friendly service on a monthly basis. This has drawn in about 60-80 people affected by dementia. 

A person with dementia now delivers the reading at the service. This person is provided with what she needs to read a week before the service. This allows her to familiarise herself with it and raise any questions or concerns she might have. During the service the reading is presented in a dementia-friendly way, with the text being provided in large print. 

The church service has received the attention of other church leaders, who are keen to replicate the success in their own areas. 

Learning points

Community inclusion: It was noted that there is a religious divide in the North Coast area, so the Alzheimer’s Society Service Manager approached the local Priest Fr Diarmuid Sheehan and invited him to join the organising, planning and delivery of the service.  The priest has come on board meaning the Dementia Friendly service is cross-community reaching out to more people affected by dementia in the local area.

Key contact to find out more

Alzheimer's Local Services team, Northern Ireland

Useful links

Article in the Belfast Telegraph