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Often, spirituality and religion go hand in hand within the practice of individuals. Spirituality is extremely common in the elderly community, sometimes even more so than in the younger generation’s lives. Approximately 52% of adults in the U.S. consider religion/spirituality to be important, on the other hand, those statistics skyrocket to 90% of the elderly (Moody & Sasser, 2015). Although it is true that the elderly is more likely to practice spirituality and religion, that does not necessarily mean that they participate in an organized role. Instead, often individuals can practice individually, for example, prayer and meditation (Moody & Sasser, 2015).
Based on information by (Vahia et al., 2011), it reaffirms the idea that majority of the elderly (53%), in this case specifically adults, partake in spiritual activities, more so on their own. A chart provided on Spirituality and Aging (Lamatina), gave more insight based on numbers to the amount of people who place a strong value on spirituality. The findings on how strong spiritual values were people aged 18-29 (51%), 30-49 (60%), 50-64 (62%), and 65+ (73%) (Lamatina). This shows a correlation of age and level of spirituality as the continuing trend is as age increases, as does the importance of spirituality. Since there is an obvious correlation between age and spirituality, it is only obvious to wonder what draws older adults to spirituality and religion, more than it did in their earlier years.
As noted above, spirituality and religious exploration have become much more prevalent in the lives of older adults from when they were younger. This is not to suggest that people have no interest in spirituality and religion when they are younger, just that the correlation being made is that as age increases, as does the level of spirituality. The question that comes about from these statistics, is what causes the correlation between age and spirituality. Five possible causations are morality awareness, support, a shift in priorities, desire to discover more, and reflection (Five Star Senior Living, 2017). When it comes to findings by Chavez, spirituality in older adults can be placed into two categories, “Spirituality and Old Age” and “Spiritualty and Quality of Life” (Chavez, et al., 2015). From the two possibilities listed prior to this sentence, it can be more than assumed that the elderly gravitates to spirituality and religion based on a need/want to fill a void and improve their lives. With this being said, it would be extremely interesting to further explore the elderly and spirituality and dig more in depth as to why the to connect so frequently as well as spirituality having a positive effect on individuals later in age.
While looking at the five causes from Five Star Senior Living, there is more information given as to why the elderly might be drawn to spirituality based on the five topics provided. When it comes to morality awareness, it is obvious that the elderly is more in tuned with their own mortality based on the simple fact of their age (Five Star Senior Living, 2017). This might suggest that the elderly want to become more spiritually connected because they feel as though they are nearing the end of their lives and wat hope for the afterlife in one way or another. A desire to discover more could be more closely related to their mortality because as a senior, they are interested in what there is beyond their life and what they already know (Five Star Senior Living, 2017). A connection to spiritualty can provide a sense of support to the elderly either through a connection to someone/organization or something beyond the physical realm providing them with a sense of comfort (Five Star Senior Living. 2017). When it comes to a shift in priorities, it can be noted that the priorities of an elderly individual versus a young adult are considerably different. While a young adult may be focused on building a future, an elderly individual may have already done so, thus providing more down time. This change in priorities could be shifted into something more meaningful than they once had, like spirituality (Five Star Senior Living, 2017). A common thought is spirituality is important to older adults because it provides them an opportunity to reflect on their lives and if need be can help them feel a sense of redemption (Five Star Senior Living, 2017).
Chavez’s work has separated the ideas into two categories as mentioned above, all which seem to point to spirituality as a way to increase one’s quality of life. Many have said that spirituality “helps them in maintaining, promoting and restoring health, through their relationship of connection with the Higher Being” (Chavez, et al., 2015). Links to spirituality in the elderly community can also affect their wellbeing and quality of life by affecting how the feel both physically and emotionally (Chavez, et al., 2015). Connecting to the idea of emotional health, spirituality with the elderly provides them with positive feelings and thoughts (Chavez, et al., 2015). Based on findings by the Mayo Clinic, health and positive thinking can generally go hand in hand, so it would be easy to see why the elderly may use this for their own wellbeing. The Mayo Clinic has provided health benefits from positive feelings and thoughts including a longer life, lower depression/stress, better physical wellbeing and more! (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
As Lamatina suggestion, the elderly is always in some form or stage of grief. (Lamatina). This is because during the later stages of life, there are more deaths based on age and chronic health issues. This causes the elderly to feel some sort of grief for someone they have lost, or the feelings of their own lives coming to an end. This increases the chance that the elderly will look to some form of spirituality to cope with this. A study conducted by Lou Harris and Associates concluded that 67% of seniors look for spirituality as a way to find meaning in life (Lamatina).
There has been some connection made in the nursing community between the elderly and spirituality being a positive influence on their wellbeing. Based on the works of Westera, it is said that spiritual wellbeing can be a good indicator for the actual wellbeing health wise and vice versa (Westera, 2017). Interestingly enough, when thinking about spirituality, it can be connected to leisure activities, like arts for example. Later in life, the elderly can engage in more leisure activities because they now have an increase in time. These activities can provide the elderly a spiritual sense of meaning and accomplishment in their lives (Westera, 2017). Nurses have now been realizing that this act of spiritual activities can do wonders for the lives of their elderly patients. Westera said, “Nurses are discovering ways they can care for the whole person through creative interventions because art and meditation automatically put patients into the place where healing flows” (Westera, 2017). This is showing that even medical professionals are finding value in spiritualty in a sense that it can foster the healing process which is essential to the health of elderly patients. This idea makes sense because if a person’s “heart” is not in healing, then the process may become harder because of an unwillingness to try.
Westera has also suggested that spirituality also can connect the individual to nature and the outside world around them (Westera, 2017). When a person does this, they can perform spiritual acts within nature, for example, gardening or even something as simple as taking a walk. As many individuals know, interactions in nature can have amazing benefits for a person’s health. Based on research conducted by Kerr, elderly individuals who spend 30 plus minutes outdoors a day exhibited fewer symptoms of depression and a higher quality of life based on better health conditions and fewer fears (for example the fear of falling) (Kerr, et al. 2012). Westera describes how older adults with strong spiritual connections have an easier and quicker time recovering from health illnesses as opposed to individuals who do not have a spiritual connection (Westera, 2017). Along with the physical health benefits, spirituality also demonstrates mental and emotion benefits that contribute to the wellbeing of the elderly. A concern as people age is the diminishing state of the mind. When spirituality comes into place it can decrease the amount and speed of cognitive decline (Westera, 2017). Continuing with mental health, a connection to spirituality can help individuals cope with depression, stress, and anxiety (Westera, 2017). Also, if there is a treatment plan in place to try and combat these issues, having a way to work some sort of spirituality/religion into the treatment (for those who connect to it) have shown higher rates of success (Westera, 2017).
As people age, it is becoming more common for them to adopt certain spiritual
aspects into their every day lives. This is even true in the case of my own grandmother who embodies this trend. As a young adult, she was not spiritual or religious in any way, shape or form. However, as she progressed in age and moved into a Senior Community, she longed for a sense of meaning and belonging and ever since has been partaking in a spiritual lifestyle. Using my grandmother as a stepping stone, I am interested if there are any effects that gender has on spirituality later in life. McFarlands research states that women with high levels of involvement tend to have similar levels of mental health as those who do not, while men in the same situation have higher levels of mental health (McFarland, 2009). In this study, the found the reason for this difference between the genders because naturally women are expected and play more submissive roles than men (McFarland. 2009). An example of this could be in a religious aspect where women are less likely to lead the church or read a prayer. It could be possible for this situation to turn in the future as women are continuously talking more front and center roles in society and possibly one day women would reap the same benefits as men in this situation.
As an individual becomes older, they can sometimes lose track of who they are. Spirituality can help this issue because it can help an individual make decisions and perform actions based on what their beliefs tell them (Mukherjee, 2016). This can also limit the number of stressors an induvial may face because they do not need to put so much emphasis on decisions that need to be made. A common theme between the elderly and gravitating towards spirituality is it provides a sense of meaning later in life that they might not have. Later in life, spirituality can provide an individual with a sense of purpose and belongingness (Mukherjee, 2016). This is because, generally, an individual will have a chance to reflect on the life they have lived while also having something to look forward to.
A sad truth that comes with the territory of aging, is the inevitability of loss of a friend or loved one. In stances of loss, especially with a person who is close to the older individual, spirituality can play a vital role with coping with these loses. When spirituality comes into focus, it can help the induvial come into terms with the loss as well as provide value and a connection in their own life (Watts, et al., 2018).
- Becoming More Spiritual: A Natural Progression for Older Adults. (2017, December 27). Retrieved November 22, 2018, from https://www.fivestarseniorliving.com/warmth-hospitality/becoming-more-spiritual-a-natural-progression-for-older-adults
- Chaves, Lindanor Jacó, & Gil, Claudia Aranha. (2015). Older people’s concepts of spirituality, related to aging and quality of life. Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 20(12), 3641-3652.
- Kerr, J., Marshall, S., Godbole, S., Neukam, S., Crist, K., Wasilenko, K., Golshan, S., … Buchner, D. (2012). The relationship between outdoor activity and health in older adults using GPS. International journal of environmental research and public health, 9(12), 4615-25.
- Lamatina, M. (n.d.). Spirituality and Aging. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.nap411.com/family/spirituality-a-aging/spirituality-a-aging
- Mcfarland, M. J. (2009). Religion and Mental Health Among Older Adults: Do the Effects of Religious Involvement Vary by Gender? The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 65B(5), 621-630. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbp112
- Moody, H. R. & Sasser, J. R. (2015). Aging: Concepts and controversies. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
- Mukherjee, S. B. (2016). Spirituality and Religion: Elderly’s Perception and Understanding. Indian Journal of Gerontology, 30(3), 336–354. Retrieved from http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=a9h&AN=118056680&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress. (2017, February 18). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950
- Vahia, I. V., Depp, C. A., Palmer, B. W., Fellows, I., Golshan, S., Thompson, W., Allison, M., … Jeste, D. V. (2011). Correlates of spirituality in older women. Aging & mental health, 15(1), 97-102.
- Wattis, J., & Curran, S. (2018, September 16). How spirituality can help us cope with the trials of ageing. Retrieved November 21, 2018 from http://theconversation.com/how-spirituality-can-help-us-cope-with-the-trials-of-ageing-58180
- Westera, D. (2017). Spirituality in nursing practice: The basics and beyond. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
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