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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 religious belief.

  • 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 previous year.

  • 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 attenders.

  • 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.


Ministry To The Aged ~ P.O. Box 45237 ~ Boise, ID 83711 ~ 208-323-8023

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