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Chaplains meet spiritual needs of aging residents

Chaplain Julia Rajtar, far right, provides one-on-one visits and leads group services at The Deerfield for six hours each week.

Julia Rajtar feels it's important for everyone to express their spirit -- even those with memory loss and dementia.

Rajtar, an employee of Westfields Hospital, is the contracted chaplain at The Deerfield in New Richmond. For six hours each week, she spends time with the elderly residents one-on-one, leading worship service, hosting a Bible study and meeting with a group to discuss transitions.

"It's amazing how much you can get done in six hours," she said with a smile.

Chaplain Bruce Ruggles, with Presbyterian Homes, does similar work at The Gables.

On Oct. 25, Rajtar held a worship service for about a dozen residents of The Arbor, the memory care wing of The Deerfield.

"I've been doing this for about five years," she said. "This worship service was developed for them. Short and sweet with a couple songs -- usually the same songs."

Rajtar said it's common for parishioners with dementia to often feel left out or lost at a traditional worship service.

"They just don't know or understand how to lead worship with this type of follower," she said of local clergy.

That's one of the reasons Rajtar plans to train area clergy to work with people with dementia.

"I want to duplicate what's here," she said of her worship service at The Deerfield. "I want to help them understand how people with memory loss can participate."

The training sessions are being planned out of frustration, Rajtar explained.

"They feel as though they're not participating," she said. They don't understand how to get them to participate."

Working with the elderly and those with dementia is something Rajtar felt was the right thing to do, she said.

"I've always been drawn to older adults," Rajtar said. "During service one woman said, 'I love you dearly,' and it's not uncommon for her to say that, but I can tell you the feeling is mutual."

She said she hopes her service helps The Arbor residents feel alive again.

"I want to help them find meaning in their lives as they transition," she said. "I'm planting the seed and waiting for the flower to burst forth from the ground."

Anyone in the room on Monday could tell you that what she's doing is working.

On Monday, residents were quietly watching television. When Rajtar entered the room, residents perked up and started singing along to a CD she put on.

"I want to help them be recognized as people with spirits, not people with memory loss," Rajtar said. "Their spirits are still alive. They're just looking for a way to express what's in their hearts."