We’re often told that people become more spiritual as they age. In a similar fashion, the message has gone out that seniors who are more in touch with their spirituality have better health outcomes. The reality is that spirituality and aging isn’t the easiest subject for researchers to study, but they keep trying. It’s certainly an interesting matter to contemplate.
Spirituality and Aging
If you’re a scientist trying to weigh spirituality’s impact on aging, you’ll first need to define it clearly, and that’s harder than it seems. Moving beyond that, there’s the challenge of identifying the reasons why any impact might exist.
Spirituality is surprisingly tricky to define because everyone seems to have a slightly different interpretation of its meaning. For some, spirituality is confined to their belief in God and their participation in an organized religion. Others take a broader view. They’ll accept that religious activity can be a source of spirituality, but they believe that nonreligious activities can help people get in touch with their spiritual side too. This could be enjoying a meditation routine, performing a yoga sequence, spending time in quiet reflection, or simply walking through nature along a path in the park. Further complicating matters, there are also some people who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. For this group, spirituality is found only in nonreligious activities.
This mix of beliefs has presented researchers interested in the question of spirituality and aging with quite a challenge. How do they decide who to include in their studies? How do they measure religiousness? How do they measure spirituality? To make matters even more complex, researchers are studying the question in cultures and religions that span the globe, so there’s even greater variation in custom and expectation. In many cases, researchers end up combining the concepts of religion and spirituality for the purposes of their studies. Measurements remain a challenge, and comparing various studies is hard because they may have used different standards for determining whether participants counted as religious or spiritual.
A global study published in SSM Population Health, a social science journal, does seem to finally offer evidence that people grow more spiritual with age. Researchers surveyed adults to find out if they identified as religious. Then, they asked if they think about the meaning or purpose of life. The second question was used as a measure of spirituality. In every country but China, the oldest adults, those ages 60 and older, were the most likely to say that they were religious. Meanwhile, the percentage who said they frequently thought about the meaning of life was more varied, but a healthy chunk of the senior population in most of the countries answered in the affirmative. This suggests that there may be some truth to the anecdote that people grow more spiritual as they age.
The Potential Health Impacts of Spirituality
Why are researchers interested in the potential impacts of seniors and spirituality? As Mayo Clinic notes, there have been numerous studies into the matter over the years. Many suggest that involving religion and spirituality in a positive fashion can lead to better health outcomes, including greater longevity, stronger coping skills, and a higher quality of life with less risk of anxiety and depression.
How Spirituality Heals
Since researchers are still struggling to define spirituality, it’s no surprise that they don’t really understand why seniors may be more likely to embrace spirituality as they age or how it may help them stay healthy or heal if they encounter a health problem. However, this study does offer a few theories. The first is that participating in a form of organized religion can offer social support that can encourage healthy behaviors and lend a hand in times of trouble. Another theory is that embracing spiritual practices, either religious or non-religious, can encourage healthier behaviors. What other mechanism could spirituality offer? Researchers suspect that seeking out activities that soothe spiritual needs reduces stress, which offers definite health benefits. Finally, there are the psychosocial responses encouraged by most spirituality practices. For example, practicing an attitude of forgiveness has been shown to reduce hostility and anger, which has health benefits.
Spirituality may be hard to measure, but it is something that is easy to feel and explore for yourself. Whether it’s a religious service, a yoga or tai chi class, a nature walk, or a chance to relax in a beautiful environment, the Gables on Pelham offers a variety of opportunities for our residents to reflect in the way that suits their preferences. The Gables on Pelham is a continuing care retirement community that welcomes seniors from all walks of life. We offer flexible and personalized care, including assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, and rehabilitation. You’ll love our cozy accommodations, fun-filled events calendar, and welcoming community atmosphere. To learn more, please schedule a tour or give us a call at 864-713-1377.