I have a new post at her.meneutics: “Blessed are those with Alzheimer’s.” It begins: 

Americans are living longer and longer. For many individuals, this comes as good news, and yet for the larger culture, it brings social change, significant increases in health-care costs, and a higher prevalence of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s, but the disease impacts an even greater swath of the population. Nearly 11 million unpaid caregivers (many of them women) often work around the clock to try to understand and deal with the impact of dementia on family members.


Recently Pam Belleck reported on a novel approach to Alzheimer’s care in the New York Times. Her article “Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate,” focused on a nursing home in Phoenix, Arizona. This nursing home has served elderly men and women with dementia for decades, and in recent years the staff implemented a series of measures to care for their patients more effectively. At first glance, their approach appears indulgent, even potentially harmful. As Belleck writes, patients “are allowed practically anything that brings comfort, even an alcoholic ‘nip at night.'” They eat whenever they want and whatever they want–chocolate, bacon, and so forth. The state of Arizona resisted, and even tried to regulate, many of The Beatitudes unconventional methods. But over time, this small facility, with only 30 patients, has become a model for individual caregivers and institutions alike.

The New York Times‘ article did not mention the origins of The Beatitudes and their ethos, but the name alone suggests the Christian roots of the institution. “The Beatitudes,” of course, refers to Matthew 5, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which he proclaims God’s blessing upon “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” and “the meek” (among others). According to The Beatitudes’ website, the facility began in the 1960’s as the response of a church congregation to the need for a welcoming retirement community. In fact, “the young church congregation decided to build the Campus before they built the church sanctuary because the need was so great for comfortable, caring, and affordable retirement living to meet the needs of seniors with modest economic means.” The Mission Statement of The Beatitudes refers to a “heritage of Christian hospitality” and “a model of wellness that promotes soundness of mind, spirit, and body.”

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