Crawford Care Management

Spirituality

  • Ask the elder their religious affiliation, if any, and then ask if they are experiencing any difficulty attending church or synagogue. Offer transportation, it will be greatly appreciated.
  • Large print bibles make wonderful holiday gifts.
  • Some priests, ministers, and rabbis make house calls. Call the local house of worship office and see if you can schedule visits throughout the year.
  • If the individual is home bound, find a radio station that plays hymns or other religious music they might enjoy. The church or synagogue can help identify a station. 

Religion Can Help Keep You Healthy
You've always been told that going to church is good for you. Now, medical research is beginning to show just how true it is. An expanding field of research that explores the links between faith and healing of the body and mind has produced substantial evidence that religious beliefs and practices can have positive health benefits.

Numerous studies have linked faith and religion with health in the past, but much of this research has been met with skepticism in the medical and psychiatric communities. Studies have shown, for example, that people who attend church are healthier than those who don't. But does that really prove a direct correlation between church attendance and overall health – or does it just show that healthier people get out more often?

New research out of Duke University might have the answer. Researchers followed the religious behavior of a randomly selected group, interviewing more than 1700 participants at home and testing their blood for nine substances that indicate the activity of the immune system and inflammatory response. They found that those who did attend services regularly were only half as likely to have elevated levels of Interleuken-6, a substance that can indicate a weakened or overactive immune system.

And, as the following research suggests, faith and spirituality can have a most profound effect on older individuals:

  • A Duke University study of more than 4,000 individuals age 65 or older found that those who regularly attend church services, pray individually, and read the Bible are 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those who do not participate in religious activities. The study made adjustments for other factors that could affect blood pressure such as race, age, and gender.
  • A study by Harold G. Koenig, of depressed, medically ill adults age 65 or older found that spirituality can speed recovery from depression. Researchers followed 87 patients who were diagnosed with a depressive disorder after being admitted to the hospital for a physical illness. Patients with higher "intrinsic religiosity" scores (a measurement of spiritually, beliefs, and experiences) rebounded from depression faster – even after psychiatric history, quality of life, and functional status were accounted for.

Bolstered by such compelling evidence, the caregiving community is trying to find ways to ensure that the spiritual needs of the elderly don't go unmet. According to one Broadspire Care Manager "It's always important to ask about religious preferences – for both the spiritual aspect as well as the increased socialization that activities may provide, even if they live in a nursing home, there may be a bus service that can transport them to church. Or we can often have someone from their church visit them."

Assessing an individual's spiritual needs requires careful listening and watching. A Broadspire Care Management client was very ill and coping with the recent loss of her husband. During the initial assessments, it became apparent that the woman's Jewish faith could play a pivotal role in her recovery. Her Broadspire Care Manager worked very hard with her to make sure that she was able to celebrate Jewish holidays.

She has recovered from the depression, and she gets out regularly to attend temple.

The faith community is reaching out to fill the need as well. "The bulk of my work comes from seniors looking for a variety of services. We're trying to make better connections with them," said Mary Lawder, RN and Parish Nurse at Norcross First United Methodist Church in Georgia. The church has a homebound ministry and encourages "inter-generational contacts" by having the church youth do yard work and make gifts for seniors. The church also provides a day-care program for Alzheimer's patients. Primarily staffed by seniors, "The Sunshine Club" represents a rewarding volunteer opportunity as well. "It has been the most beautiful picture of giving back. It's just so wonderful to watch," said Lawder.

Parish nurses are healthcare practitioners who combine their spiritual beliefs with nursing skills to provide preventive health education and personal health counseling. Although the concept of parish nursing has been around for nearly 30 years, the field has seen rapid growth in recent years, as well as the development of practice standards. Many parish nurses are volunteers in their churches, but many hospitals – even those without a faith affiliation – have begun to embrace parish nursing programs.

Reaching out to seniors dispels the ageist notion that their spiritual growth is finished. "They often come to me with medical issues, but in talking to them, I discover that they have spiritual needs," said Lawder. She maintains that older individuals need spiritual nurturing and growth just as much as their younger counterparts. "People think 'Oh, they've got that all covered at that age.' Yet, the wonderful sharing and caring within the church and within the community...the growth in wisdom and in faith ... it doesn't stop," she said. "There is no age limit."