Benefits of Spiritual Care in the Later Years of Life
People in residential care
facilities may be there because they need assistance
with daily living or because they are recovering
from surgery or serious illness. We know informally
of the benefits of providing spiritual care
throughout the life cycle, especially to people in
the later years of life. There is also a significant
amount of information as to the effect of
spirituality on Alzheimer’s disease, overcoming
depression and how faith shortens hospital stays.
In addition, servicing of spiritual needs in care centers by
nurses and volunteers is known to be beneficial.
Some care centers and nursing homes include statements in
their policies recognizing the spiritual needs of their
residents and how those needs might be met. Several of these
indicated that spiritual well-being helps residents’ total
well-being and inner peace.
Dr. Harold Koenig, founder of the Center
for the Study of Religion/Spirituality at Duke University,
indicated that there have been about 1,200 studies on the
healing power of faith and the health effects of
spirituality. Detailed below are five studies that Dr.
Koenig has been involved in.
- A 1998 study of nearly 4,000 people
aged 65 years and older which found the risk of
diastolic hypertension 40 percent lower among people who
attended religious services at least once a week and
prayed or studied the Bible at least daily.
- A 1997 study of more than 1,700 older
adults from North Carolina which found that persons who
attended church at least once a week were only half as
likely as non-attenders to have elevated levels of
interleukin-6, an immune system protein involved in a
wide variety of age-related diseases.
- A 1998 study of 87 depressed older
adults which found those who recovered from depression
the fastest corresponded to the extent of their
- A study of 542 patients aged 60 or
older admitted to Duke University Medical Center which
found those who attended religious services weekly or
more reduced hospital stays by more than half. People
with no religious affiliation spent an average of 25
days in the hospital compared to 11 days for patients
affiliated with some religious denomination. Patients
who attended religious services weekly or more also were
43 percent less likely to have been hospitalized in the
- A 2002 study of 116 depressed
geriatric patients who were given standard medications
treatment over 12 weeks. The recovered patients in the
study reported significantly more frequent public and
private religious practices, greater positive religious
coping, and less negative religious coping than those
who remained depressed.
The National Institute of Health Care Research also recognizes the following:
- A 1995 study of 232 patients at
Dartmouth Medical School which found that elderly heart
patients were 14 times less likely to die following
surgery if they found strength and comfort in their
religious faith and remained socially involved.
- A landmark University of California
at Berkeley study that followed 5,286 people from
Alameda County, California over 28 years, which found
those who attended religious services weekly or more
were 25 percent less likely to die than infrequent
- A 1998 study of 2,025 senior citizens
in Marin County, California which found attending
worship services on a regular basis was an important
factor in predicting longevity.
- A 1999 study tracking more than
21,000 U. S. adults which found attending religious
services more than once a week can expand one’s life up
to seven years and added a potential 14 more years to
the life span of African Americans.