By Daniel B. Kaplan, PhD, MSW, Barbara J. Berkman, DSW, PhD
(Three important aspects of elderly life in which an intimate relationship with God can make a difference are described in this part of the article that we hope will offer useful information to senior leaders and ministers alike.)
Health-promoting practices In the elderly, active involvement in a religious community correlates with better maintained physical functioning and health. Some religious groups (eg, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists) advocate behaviors that enhance health, such as avoidance of tobacco and heavy alcohol use. Members of these groups are less likely to develop substance-related disorders, and they live longer than the general population. Social benefits Religious beliefs and practices often foster the development of community and broad social support networks. Increased social contact for the elderly increases the likelihood that disease will be detected early and that elderly people will comply with treatment regimens because members of their community interact with them and ask them questions about their health and medical care. Elderly people who have such community networks are less likely to neglect themselves. Caregivers Religious faith also benefits caregivers. In a study of caregivers of patients with Alzheimer disease or terminal cancer, caregivers with a strong personal religious faith and many social contacts were better able to cope with the stresses of caregiving during a 2-yr period.