Book Review: Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia

Experiencing dementia—honoring God

Review by Leigh Warmbrand

He sits across from me at the coffee shop, mindlessly pouring coffee creamers and sugars into his cup. I ask how his wife is, and he doesn’t remember if she’s home or not. “How did I get here this morning? Did I set my alarm?” he asks, and he asks these same questions 10 times over the next hour.

My friend is dealing with dementia, and he’s part of the men’s Bible study I attend. This is why Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia is practical, powerful and helpful.

Dr. Dunlop has rooted his book in the sovereignty of God as he offers compelling personal accounts intermixed with technical and medical analysis. In one passage, he speaks to his patient: “Dave, we don’t know what the future holds but we do know that God is still in control. You may face major changes, but I assure you there are still going to be happy days ahead, days when you feel the love of your family, . . . and days when you will experience God‘s love and care.”

It is educational and informative writing, technical in spots and maybe a bit much for the common lay reader to process and understand. He provides not only medical analysis and resources but also spiritual comfort, ranging from a brief exegesis of James 5:14-15 to a more detailed study on the theology of suffering. And every chapter ends with prayer for his readers.

I found Chapter 5 especially helpful in understanding how it feels to have dementia; this helped me better relate to my friend at the Bible study and better counsel his wife. Along this train of thought, the author addresses the challenges of family members and caregivers and highlights the local church’s role in support and care of both.

Throughout his book, Dr. Dunlop seeks to honor God through dementia. He deals with difficult questions such as, “How much does God value our intellect? Is there dignity for those with dementia?” The last chapter covers end-of-life issues as he concludes the emotional the narrative he has been weaving throughout the book. Exceptional notes, references, indexes and a suggested reading list for further study are provided.

As a grandson, I dealt with my grandmother’s dementia, and as a pastor, I have ministered to members of churches and their families, including my friend in the Bible study. Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia is a solid and valuable resource for anyone walking down this path themselves or with someone they know. It is helping me greatly.

Leigh Warmbrand is pastor of Central Plains Church (EFCA) in Oacoma/Chamberlain, South Dakota.

Review by Craig M. Johnson

Dementia can be a frightening disease. The loss of normalcy and cognition is truly heartbreaking.

Dunlop helped me to think through how my perspective on the personhood of dementia patients affects how I view and care for them. If I were honest with myself, I know even as a pastor I have treated people who are not mentally capable with less love and respect than someone with normal cognition.

Thus, his section on honoring the patient in all the stages of dementia was like gold. It was like having your doctor with you at the bedside of your aging family member as you are in tears, counseling you on how to minister to him or her.

I compare Dunlop’s book to a similar book, Second Forgetting, by Dr. Benjamin Mast. Both write on the same family of diseases, but I recommend Second Forgetting as a less-technical first-read about how the gospel impacts memory disorders.

That is not to say that Dunlop is not pastoral in his book. Dunlop’s care for caregivers, his counsel to the church at large and his chapter on growing spiritually in the face of dementia are very good. “Fruit is grown in the valleys,” says Billy Graham, and Dunlop writes about the fruit that can come from dementia.

He closes the book with “A Letter to My Family,” which gives instructions to his family if he reaches the point when he cannot communicate his wishes. This letter is priceless.

Craig Johnson is adult discipleship pastor at Bethel Church (EFCA), Fargo, North Dakota.

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