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Religious Older Adults May Need Less Long-Term Care

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Older adults who are deeply religious or spiritual may be less likely than others their age to enter a nursing home, a new study suggests.

Older adults who are deeply religious or spiritual may be less likely than others their age to enter a nursing home, a new study suggests. The study of 811 older patients treated at one hospital found that those who reported the most religious activities and spiritual experiences spent less time in a nursing home or rehabilitation center over 15 months. The benefit was, however, seen only in African Americans and women, and not in white men — a somewhat surprising finding, according to the study authors. Overall, though, the results are in line with past research tying religious beliefs and spirituality, which may or may not be connected to organized religion, to better physical and mental health and a longer life. What’s unique about this study, lead author Dr. Harold G. Koenig told Reuters Health, is that it links religion and spirituality to the need for long-term care. “This doesn’t prove that religion improves health,” noted Koenig, a researcher at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. However, he said, there does seem to be a connection between religious and spiritual beliefs and health — the reasons for which are still being sorted out. Koenig and his colleagues report their findings in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study included patients age 50 or older, who were hospitalized for conditions such as heart disease and digestive disorders. While hospitalized, patients were surveyed about their religious and spiritual practices and beliefs, as well as any recent stays in a hospital or long-term care facility. Admissions to a hospital, nursing home or rehab center were then tracked over the next year. On average, the patients who most often engaged in religious activities in their personal lives, such as prayer and Bible reading, spent fewer than 12 days in long-term care. That compares with nearly 27 days among patients who reported the fewest private religious practices. A similar trend was found when the researchers looked at patients’ “daily spiritual experiences” — how often they felt a spiritual presence in day-to-day life. These relationships existed regardless of patients’ physical health. The researchers did find that support from family and friends seemed to partially explain why religion and spirituality made a difference in long-term care.As has been found in other research, Koenig noted, religiously active individuals had a stronger social network compared with their peers. However, he pointed out, reasons other than social support also appear to be at work, though it’s unclear what they are. Also uncertain is why the positive effects were limited to women and African American men. Koenig said that based on past research, his team expected that any benefits of religion and spirituality would be greater for African Americans than for whites, and for women compared with men. But the total lack of effect among white men was unexpected. The findings, Koenig said, suggest that asking older hospitalized patients about their spiritual needs, then referring them to a hospital chaplain if necessary, could make a difference in how they fare. He noted that while some small studies have shown this may be true, a “major study” should now look at the question. (SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine: Reuters Health News: Amy Norton: July 2004.)

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Posted On: 30 July, 2004
Modified On: 5 December, 2013

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