Have you heard of the Merck Manual? You have probably seen one at your physician’s office. It’s hard to miss at 3800 pages! The Merck Manual has been one of the most trusted medical references since 1899. That’s right; it’s now in its 19th edition! Their Geriatric chapters advise physicians on medical “best practices” in caring for elderly patients. And you may be surprised by some of their findings!
In an article published in the Merck Manual by Barbara Berkman, PhD, and Daniel Kaplan, MSW, doctors are informed of the vital link that religion and spiritual practices have in maintaining senior health. Consider these findings about American seniors:
*More than 90% consider themselves religious/spiritual.
*More than 90% pray.
*More than 50% attend religious services every week or more often.
*Next to the family, religious communities are the most significant source of social support.
*Participation in religious activities is more common than all other forms of voluntary social activity combined.
All of this religious activity brings significant health benefits! For example, researchers found that seniors who described themselves as employing faith-based coping mechanisms (through practices such as “praying, trusting in God, turning problems over to God, receiving support from clergy”) had shorter recovery times, less depression, better overall outcomes, and even a reduced perception of themselves as ill or disabled. The influence of religious communities also had protective factors: seniors were “more likely to stop smoking, exercise more, increase social contacts, stay married, and live longer.” Regular participation in a faith community also meant that illnesses were detected earlier through the observations of caring friends, treatment regimens were more likely to be followed, and self-neglect was less likely.
Religious faith even extended these benefits to caregivers! Especially for those caregivers dealing with terminal illness or dementia in their clients, “strong personal religious faith and many social contacts made them better able to cope with the stresses of caregiving during a 2-year period.”
Merck urged doctors and other professionals not to neglect spiritual issues in caring for their elderly patients. Instead, geriatric providers were advised to ask seniors about their religious beliefs and practices, encourage ongoing participation by eliminating potential barriers (such as transportation or hearing problems), make referrals to clergy for support and counseling, and recommend participation in a faith community when appropriate.
At Cascade Companion Care, we are a faith-friendly company! Jon and Linda Senn, our owners, are a Christian couple who strive to glorify God in all of our business ethics, values and practices. As we serve seniors, we are often asked to read a religious text, offer a prayer before a meal, or drive someone to a religious service. Questions and stories about faith often come up as seniors share their lives. If your loved one is receiving care from Cascade Companion Care, we invite you to speak with us about the spiritual background, practices, and needs of your loved one so that we may serve them sensitively and respectfully, assisting them in maintaining the level of participation and practice they may desire.
Source: “Religion and Spirituality in the Elderly”, Merck Manual, by Berkman and Kaplan. The entire study can be referenced at http://www.merchmanuals.com/professionals/print/geriatrics/social_issues_in_the_elderly