Spirituality and Aging

Helen Lavretsky

Disclosures

Aging Health. 2010;6(6):749-769. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Interest in spirituality and aging has increased recently, owing to overwhelming evidence of positive health outcomes linked to spirituality and religious participation. Increasing longevity in modern society puts spiritual needs of older adults at the forefront of societal priorities. Understanding individual spiritual perspectives becomes increasingly important, given the issues of loss, physical illness and mortality that are confronted in old age. There are multiple barriers to the proper assessment of spirituality in clinical practice and research (e.g., the lack of professional training for healthcare professionals, shortage of time and comfort for healthcare providers when discussing spiritual issues and needs). Integrating an individual's spiritual practice into their healthcare can help shape personalized medical care for older adults and improve health outcomes. This article reviews literature and research on spirituality, as well as spiritual interventions and their putative neurobiological mechanisms in relation to aging, mental and physical health, and coping with death and dying.

Introduction

Interest in spirituality and aging has increased recently, primarily owing to empirical research overwhelmingly demonstrating the various health benefits of spirituality and religious participation.[1,2] Studies have also shown that spirituality tends to increase during later adulthood.[3–5] Interestingly, this trend of increased spiritual growth and religious activities in older age people continues in modern society, despite significant secularization of the society compared with 50 years ago. Spirituality moderates positive relationships with various measures of life satisfaction, psychosocial wellbeing, both physical and mental health, and is helpful in the quest for meaning and purpose in life.[6] Understanding an individual's spiritual perspective becomes increasingly important, given the issues of loss, physical illness, disability and mortality that are confronted in old age.[2] In this broad review of the topic, the trends for spiritual development in older age in the modern society will be discussed, as well as gerontological theories of resurgence of spirituality in old age, the existing evidence of close relationships between spirituality and mental health, physical health and successful aging, the objectives for professional training in spirituality assessment in clinical settings, research findings in neurobiology of spirituality, and the efficacy of spiritual interventions in aging adults. This article presents a perspective on the importance of understanding individual spirituality as a way of developing personalized patient-centered healthcare according to modern societal priorities.

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