Dementia ministry in Georgia serves as a model for churches to care for the caregivers | 8/6/2019 | Staff
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Sheila Welch waits near the arched entryway of her home on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban Atlanta. The 72-year-old greets arriving guests with the warm smile of a Southern hostess.

The 20 people in her living room aren’t just social visitors, however. Once a month, they gather to take part in a support group for men and women who are caring for spouses with dementia.

Welch - Reminder - Month - Month - People

Welch stands across from a visual reminder of why, month after month, she connects these people, who seek solace and information. It’s a collage of photos of her parents, who are both now gone.

Welch’s father died after serving for seven exhausting years as his wife’s primary caregiver. She had Alzheimer’s and outlived her husband by three years.

Welch - Father - Grief - Father - Care

Welch stepped in where her father left off. Navigating her grief for her father and providing care for her mother felt overwhelming and isolating. Yet out of that experience came her current vocation: coordinating the dementia care ministry at Due West United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia.

“Caregivers need just as much care as the person who is living with dementia,” Welch said. “Sometimes they need more.”

Sheila - Welch - Participants - Dementia - Caregiver

Sheila Welch, right, engages with participants at the dementia caregiver support group meeting. Members such as Dianne Jones get emotional support as well as information at the meetings.

Nine years ago, she took over as the leader of an existing church support group. Since then, the ministry has expanded quickly. Welch and Due West have scrambled to meet demand, pursuing a twofold mission: to support caregivers and to educate faith and community leaders.

Ministry - Model - Churches - Support - Groups

The ministry now serves as a model for other churches and includes three support groups, online resources, an educational workshop, and an annual conference for caregivers that attracts more than 300 participants.

“This is an epidemic. Families are going under. The job is right there in...
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