By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

A diagnosis of dementia often strikes fear in the hearts of the person who will be living with the disease and their loved ones. 

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Myriads of questions arise as loved ones set a protocol to meet the person’s medical, daily practical and later stages needs. 

In a rosary program offered in October by Stephen Ministry of St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, the patient and their loved ones can be educated about the disease, receive support and most importantly, accept the Blessed Mother’s invitation to pause and reflect on the spiritual implications of their journey together. 

The inspiration behind the program is Matthew Estrade’s book “The Peace with Dementia Rosary: Education, Intentions and Community.”

Estrade was moved to become an advocate for people with dementia after watching his mother struggle being a caregiver for his grandfather, who had dementia and was in a nursing facility in New Orleans. 

“I remember the moment when my mother sat me down during Thanksgiving college break (in 1997) to tell me that my grandfather’s dementia had gotten so bad that he could not remember her name,” Estrade reflected. 

Those memories were still fresh on his mind when he lost his Chalmette home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He continued working and enrolled at the University of Louisiana in Monroe and received a master’s degree in gerontology. He now lives in Covington and works as a project manager for Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. His specialties include age-related issues. 

Estrade clarified what is meant by the word “dementia.” 

“Dementia is a broad term used to describe a group of chronic symptoms that may include memory impairment disrupting everyday life, diminished judgment, inability to plan, challenges with words and communicating, disorientation of time and place and other symptoms. Dementia can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, vascular dementia, frontotemporal degeneration, or other irreversible diseases,’ ” said Estrade. 

According to Estrade, Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases attacks a person’s core identity as their mind degenerates. There can also be a sense of isolation as people stop visiting the person and their loved ones, or the loved ones “keep things private.” 

Through his work, Estrade has come into contact with Catholics from many different areas. 

“It got me to thinking about how to help people utilize their faith to help them in their struggles with dementia,” Estrade said. 

This led him to write the book, which can be read by people with dementia as well as caregivers. He refers to those who take care of loved ones with the disease as “care partners” because both are facing the issues together. 

The book gives practical tips and resources as well as spiritual insights for people on their journey through the disease. He combines the four mysteries of the rosary with specific prayers for individuals living with dementia, their care partners, families and others. 

Estrade’s book has evolved into a community-oriented program he fosters. It includes an online prayer wall, daily Facebook live videos, weekly blog articles and a monthly Facebook live rosary and dementia question and answer session. He also facilitates a care partner support program at his parish Mary Queen of Peace Church in Mandeville. 

Stephen Ministry of St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge has picked up on the program and is presenting it via Zoom during October, the month of the Holy Rosary. 

“We often find (for caregivers and patients) that after diagnosis they think there is no hope or that it is ‘all over.’ You can’t be more hopeful than when praying, especially the rosary,” said Stephen Ministry leader Dana Territo, a former colleague of Estrade, who will facilitate the program. 

She noted that people with dementia still have a person hood and prayer connects them and their caregivers with hope. 

“This is a way of honoring the caregivers and their loved ones,” Territo said. 

Sessions typically last an hour to an hour and 15 minutes and will be held Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m., on Oct. 14, 21, 28 and Nov. 4 and 11. Register by emailing Territo at thememorywhisperer or calling 225-572-9250. The Zoom link will be made available after registration. The book will be provided by Stephen Ministry and can be picked up at the church office.