Spirituality and Aging

Helen Lavretsky

Disclosures

Aging Health. 2010;6(6):749-769. 

In This Article

Future Perspective

The public health significance of spirituality and positive aging is rapidly growing, with an increasing elderly population. The cost of care for the victims of mental and physical illnesses will increase exponentially in the next several decades. It is important to understand the interaction between spirituality, and physical and mental health in older adults. Learning to use and enhance spirituality may help improve health outcomes and disability, while enhancing the healing process. Another opportunity to understand the phenomenon lies in the practice of employing spiritual beliefs in promoting and coping with death and dying, especially in the palliative and long-term healthcare settings and hospices.

Training of healthcare professionals in assessing and integrating spirituality into healthcare should be a priority for interdisciplinary training programs via the development of a comprehensive curriculum for medical schools, schools of nursing and social work, allied health and clinical pastoral programs.

Future spiritual interventions that aim to enhance coping and reduce stress in various populations must consider spiritual diversity, and develop targeted programs that offer choices of healthcare based on individual spiritual beliefs, thus creating a basis for personalized healthcare. Future research should test culturally appropriate interventions tailored to the needs of different populations, which combine methods demonstrated to be effective in reducing stress and improving wellbeing and coping. In addition, future studies of the neurobiology of spiritual interventions and individualized spiritual treatment should include neuroimaging, an assessment of individual genetic, psychosocial and biological vulnerability factors that can lead to the development of more effective preventive interventions for depression and anxiety, and stress reduction in older adults.

A comprehensive multidimensional model that combines psychological, social, genetic and neurobiological factors, based on previous research and theory, is needed to guide future research in the area of spirituality. Integrated use of spiritual interventions enhancing individual resilience to stress, and the mind–body approaches to stress reduction (e.g., meditation, yoga, mindfulness and Tai Chi), are likely to improve overall functioning and wellbeing in older adults.

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