John Gale is a chaplain who works with a unique group of people.
“I provide end of life spiritual care for hospice,” said Gale, adding he has been serving as a pastor for more than 38 years.
Among those Gale works with are the people diagnosed with dementia.
“Dementia takes people to a deep, dark place,” said Gale, who recently spoke about his role with families during a Redwood Area Dementia Awareness Network event held in Redwood Falls.
Speaking about dementia as a pastor and chaplain, but also adding personal experiences, Gale said while there is obviously a physical side to those who are dealing with dementia, there is also a spiritual side to it.
“My mom was what you would call a religious fanatic,” said Gale with a smile.
He said while he was serving in the Navy others around him would receive care packages with all sorts of good things, while his were typically full of religious literature. Gale said his mother felt it was important for her children to find a spiritual connection, adding he went into the ministry because of that influence.
As time went on, Gale said things began to manifest themselves in his mother that pointed to a specific form of dementia that came on at an earlier age and was passed on genetically in families.
Known as Huntington’s Disease, the form of dementia is described as early onset, said Gale, and it can be very devastating to a family.
After years of observing the symptoms, Gale said the final indicator took place when his mother was carrying her grandchild, made a sudden jerk and dropped the baby. When his wife asked what was wrong with her, Gale had to accept the fact that his mother had Huntington’s Disease.
“That is not something people talked about, and if they did it was in whispered voices,” said Gale.
As time went on the disease took more and more of Gale’s mother from her family.
“My mom died and is with the Lord,” said Gale, adding for the family it was a long journey.
Dementia is a growing crisis in America, said Gale, adding it is expected by 2050 that more than 13 million people will be diagnose with dementia.
“The numbers are staggering,” said Gale, adding that will not only impact the healthcare industry but the overall economy.
Great strides have been made, said Gale, adding, however, there is so much more to do. In the meantime, Gale said it is important to remember as people face dementia in their lives or as family members who see it manifesting itself in the lives of their loved ones that it is important to remember to address people not only as physical beings but as spiritual ones, as well.
“God cares about those who have dementia,” said Gale, adding Jesus demonstrated compassion to those who faced mental health issues. “I believe God does not judge us based on how we act in that state of mind.”
As a chaplain, Gale said he has been motivated to understand that spiritual need in people, adding that means visiting with people, holding their hand and reading the Bible to them.
There are times, he added, when people who have dementia are alone, simply because family members just can’t handle dealing with what is happening to their loved one.
In fact, Gale said as time went on he noticed in his own life it became much easier to make excuses not to visit his mother as the dementia got worse.
Gale said in his time as a hospice chaplain he has learned that despite the memories people lose, there seems to be that deep part of their memory that holds on to the spiritual side. Many times, he said, he will be with someone and will start singing a song like “Jesus Loves Me,” and soon after they will be singing it right along with him.
Gale said when he was training for the ministry there was very little offered in terms of preparation for the kind of work he does as a chaplain, adding he thinks it is something that needs to be taught to help those like him who are working with dementia patients and their families.
As caregivers, Gale encouraged people to remember that spiritual side of the lives of people, adding helping them make that connection can help everyone as they continue on their journey.