Religious Bodies–Lutheran Chaplains Interpreting and Asserting Religiousness of People with Severe Dementia in Finnish Nursing Homes
2. Materials and Methods
3.1. Interpreting Religiousness
3.1.1. Bodily Manifestations
PEKKA: When I am with a person with dementia, I observe whether their lips or eyes or heads move. Things like that … or if they smile. Or maybe they try to move their fingers, or take my hand. I mean, communicating with them becomes bodily. Physicality becomes important, touch and all, even the Holy Communion is physical then, the taste of the wine, lack of taste of the bread. If someone cannot drink, you moisten her lips with the wine to offer some taste.
HELENA: So back in the day, I took part in a validation training for this when I started in 2001. That’s why I’ve also become acquainted with body language and facial expressions, and what meaning they take on after conceptual terms start to gradually lose their meaning.
RESEARCHER: That must certainly have been a huge help for you to have knowledge of the validation process.
HELENA: Yes, it has. And I’m also sensitive, in the way that I am attuned to feelings, emotional settings, and also kinds of expressions, gestures, and messages. As such it is of value in this job to be sensitively perceptive. And that training, of course, also helped me focus on it.
3.1.2. Strong Expressions of Emotions
ANNELI: But then something that often occurs is that it invokes feeling or memories, even if they don’t find words otherwise, they may burst into tears having heard a particular song… But they are the kinds of situations where you feel it deep in your heart, what you’re supposed to say or do in such a situation, so yeah.
RESEARCHER: Yes, so this kind of devotional moment clearly arouses, or can arouse, deep emotions even in patients suffering from severe memory disorders?
ANNELI: Yes, yes, yes. These kinds of memories come up, and may be awoken by a certain Bible passage. But, often it is song which awakens this.
3.1.3. Fumbling for Liturgical Rituals
TIINA: For example at Communion, when you can’t really tell from a person if they are here or there, but when it gets to it, or when they have made the utterances of Christ’s body and so forth, the mouth will open like young chick’s, for example. If they had been asked if they would like to take Communion they would not have understood, but these certain things trigger this in a way.
PEKKA: There have been cases where a person has been reached by singing “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” [to a tune used in Finnish Evangelical Lutheran liturgy]. Then the person has responded singing “amen, amen, amen.” That is rather remarkable. And they have felt very good and grabbed [my] hand. I remember, one person grabbed me by the hand each time they encountered something familiar as everything was so foreign to them. Suddenly something familiar appeared.
3.2. Asserting the Discovered Religiousness
3.2.1. Prayer Services
RESEARCHER: Yeah, so you can’t give a normal sermon.
TARJA: No, it can’t go like that. No. It can’t be the same sermon you gave at the church the previous Sunday. And you need a more activating approach from the pastor, so that one’s attention is focused on the present, so that someone, the pastor must have some kind of bridge to the person with a memory disorder when providing a devotional at a care home. Some kind of bridge must be built in order to provide some kind of joy to the resident or… Well, joy or providing that sacred experience. It can’t be expected that the residents acclimatize themselves to such a state. The pastor must wisely build this rapport with the listener.
3.2.2. Active Presence
PEKKA: And if you encounter someone with warmth, a giving embodied touch, using kind words, it feels good. You acquire a gentle tone in your voice if your touch is respectful, generous, and unintrusive, as well as your voice. If a person has hearing, you can speak to them from very nearby. And they might even join you in song if it’s familiar to them…So some of the songs and the oldest ones remained. It was possible to recall even three songs even though one had been removed from their home. At the care home there was only one, a lullaby that their mother had sung. And there it was, spirituality could be humming that lullaby and grasping onto mother’s memory, using a mother’s touch, stroking the head and gentle touch.
TIINA: I remember conversations where the person with memory loss who is sitting by me, perhaps holding my hand if it is that kind of a situation, and the person wants to, or may speak for a long time, I’m stuck in between often not having a clue what they mean, although they may utter some real words as well, but…the kind of interaction that is hard to grasp even with validation methods, but it rather becomes a case where one nods their head a bit and indicates that they are in the same emotional state as the speaker, and at the end they might thank me for listening. I have no idea what they have been talking about but they are very happy.
TARJA: Then when they realized that I was wearing a pastor’s clothes, so they recognized that I’m a pastor, they didn’t necessarily invite me to their room, but when I met patients or residents in the lounge or dining room we usually held a devotional in that public space, then they may have even grabbed my hand and asked for a particular song or…expressed homesickness, asked about when they can go home, or asked for advice on what to do. Or they would start telling me about some pastor they know, as I had awoken some kind of memory in them by being a pastor.
3.2.3. Chaplains’ Generational Intelligence
ANNELI: And with the church organist we had moments where they might have played hymns followed by even “a summer night’s waltz” [an old Finnish evergreen] as an interlude between hymns in the devotional [chuckles], that’s how it is, they are currently folks born in the 30 s and 40 s, so a little something from that time may be played between, Olavi Virta or Forest Flowers [Finnish artist and song]. So many recalled, oh that was my wedding waltz and may through that recall things from their youth.
KAISA: And when you think about the fact that these people who are in their eighties and nineties, in their lives, even if they weren’t particularly spiritual, in their context spirituality will have been present in a different way to them than to us, it has also been the kind of habitual culture where it has been a thing to go to church, hymns are far more closely tied to phases of life in this way.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Gender||Place of Work (Mainly)||Work Experience with People with Dementia (Years)||Work Experience as a Chaplain (Years)|
|Female||Several nursing homes||2.5||18|
|Female||One nursing home||4||10|
|Male||Recently retired, worked in nursing homes||40||40|
|Female||Several nursing homes||3||20|
|Female||Several nursing homes||18||24|
|Female||One large nursing home||18||20|
|Female||One nursing home||11||30|
|Working experience in total||115||187.5|
|Main Category||Sub-Categories||Manifestations in the Data|
|Bodily manifestations||Moving eyes, lips and heads|
Gestures and postures
Taking a hand
Looking towards or away
|Interpretations of religiousness||Strong expressions of emotions||Crying|
|Fumbling for liturgical rituals||Clasping hands|
Taking part in the Holy Communion
Holding a hymn book
Taking part in responsory
|Main Category||Sub-Categories||Manifestations in the Data|
|Prayer services||Adjusting the occasion to residents’ cognitive capacities.|
Utilizing ritual symbols
Using liturgical clothing
|Asserting religiousness||Active presence||Gentle voice|
Wearing clerical collars
|Chaplains’ generational intelligence||Utilizing pieces of popular culture from residents’ youth.|
Understanding the stronger societal presence of the church in residents’ childhood.
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Pirhonen, J.; Vähäkangas, A.; Saarelainen, S.-M. Religious Bodies–Lutheran Chaplains Interpreting and Asserting Religiousness of People with Severe Dementia in Finnish Nursing Homes. J. Ageing Longev. 2023, 3, 92-106. https://doi.org/10.3390/jal3010008
Pirhonen J, Vähäkangas A, Saarelainen S-M. Religious Bodies–Lutheran Chaplains Interpreting and Asserting Religiousness of People with Severe Dementia in Finnish Nursing Homes. Journal of Ageing and Longevity. 2023; 3(1):92-106. https://doi.org/10.3390/jal3010008Chicago/Turabian Style
Pirhonen, Jari, Auli Vähäkangas, and Suvi-Maria Saarelainen. 2023. "Religious Bodies–Lutheran Chaplains Interpreting and Asserting Religiousness of People with Severe Dementia in Finnish Nursing Homes" Journal of Ageing and Longevity 3, no. 1: 92-106. https://doi.org/10.3390/jal3010008