Spiritual values and religious beliefs play an important part in the daily lives of most Americans. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape study assert that more than 90 percent of Americans identify as religious.
Among these believers, senior citizens comprise the largest cohort by age bracket. Roughly 70 percent of people over the age of 65 believe in God. Half of them report regular church attendance. Clearly, religious faith communities have a strong impact on the lives of our senior citizens. What role does faith play in their lives, and how does it contribute to their well-being?
The Power of Faith
According to the CDC, between 1 percent and 5 percent of American Senior Citizens suffer from depression. Among those in long-term care, the rate rises to 13 percent. They are less likely to recognize when they are suffering from depression and less likely to seek appropriate medical treatment for the condition. In an observational study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, religious observance was correlated with better mood, lower rates of depression, and better health care outcomes. The New York Times reports that regular church attendance might actually help you to live longer. Religious people experience less heart disease and hypertension, they are less likely to smoke or abuse drugs and alcohol. They are less isolated and more likely to eat better and get preventative care. Spirituality and regular religious observance and practice can play a key role in living longer, but more importantly, in living better.
Like anyone else, the elderly can fall prey to the scourge of addiction, when managing chronic pain or stress. Religious involvement and a spiritual relationship with the divine can help to mitigate these stressors. Prayer and meditation can act as a pain reliever, releasing powerful endorphins in the brain. A sense of belonging to a religious group or organization can provide important connections. A strong social safety net and community outreach programs can help identify people who are in crisis in the faith community.
According to a an article posted on DrugRehab, “It can be difficult to make ourselves focus on the here and now, especially if we’re going through a transition as life-changing as addiction recovery. But taking even a few minutes a day to be mindful of all we have in the present moment – and especially all we have to be grateful for – can help us feel more at peace with ourselves, our surroundings, and our circumstances.” Prayer and meditation can enable this sense of peace and provide additional emotional resources to deal with crisis, be it of medical, emotional, or spiritual origin.
The changes that accompany the aging process for our seniors can be a unique opportunity for churches, mosques and synagogues to help their members and themselves. Church attendance has been declining since the 1970s. With the advent of women in the workplace, and weekend work schedules, many churches and religious institutions have experienced a loss of available volunteer labor. An influx of newly retired, newly religious Baby Boomers can help to fill the void.
Entering retirement can be problematic for maintaining social interaction, as people leave behind work colleagues and professional relationships. Faith communities can offer senior citizens a new network of friends and associates. As people leave the workplace, they may struggle to find meaningful ways to contribute to their society.
Volunteer opportunities and charitable work can ease this transition, helping to stave off depression and loneliness. Retiring Baby Boomers may be an untapped resource that can be integrated into churches, bringing with them a wealth of experience and knowledge to enrich and benefit their communities.