Investing in faith: Religion helps retirees stay mentally fit, studies indicate

Retirement planning is not all about money.

It may be just as important for aging Baby Boomers to have invested in their spiritual lives as in their 401K plans, new research shows.

The benefits of increased spiritual activity range from battling loneliness through personal faith and church, synagogue and mosque attendance to reducing death anxiety through religious music, the studies indicate.

And just as financial planners urge their clients to be prepared for living into their 90s, religious leaders can also make a case that a strong spiritual life provides a powerful foundation for coping with the trials of outliving our ability to care for ourselves.

Faith serves for many older people as a tool to manage uncertainty and adversity, and as a source of comfort in difficult situations, according to researcher Lydia Manning of the Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development.

“I think it’s incredibly important to take into account religion and spirituality” in older populations, she said.

Divine assurance

It is not easy getting old. We lose the work that provided a sense of identity. We lose the physical mobility that limits our freedom to do cherished activities or even to live at home. And we lose family members and friends, diminishing social networks at the time they are most needed.

All of these losses present significant mental health challenges.

How can religion help stem these losses?

Some criticize religion for taking time and resources away from more practical concerns for a longer, happier life such as building a bigger nest egg. But research linking religious activity with better health outcomes among older Americans challenges that idea.

Consider these findings presented at the recent annual meeting in Denver of the Association for the Sociology of Religion:

• One is the loneliest number: Religious service attendance may protect against loneliness in later life by integrating older adults into larger and more supportive social networks. Researchers Sunshine Rote and Terrence Hill of Florida State University and Christopher Ellison of the University of Texas at San Antonio analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. They found involvement in religious institutions can be an important social resource for older adults.
• Tell it, Mahalia: Listening to Gospel great Mahalia Jackson sing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” or contemporary star Carrie Underwood perform “Jesus, Take the Wheel” may be a source of strength in later life. Data from two waves of the Religion, Aging and Health Survey indicated that listening to religious music is associated with increases in life satisfaction, a greater sense of control and a decrease in death anxiety, reported researchers Ellison, Matt Bradshaw and Collin Mueller of Duke University and Qijuan Fang of Bowling Green State University.
• Overcoming trauma: Older individuals with long-term religious experience tended to show higher resilience in the face of trauma, with beneficial effects in the areas of life satisfaction and depression in later life. Duke researchers Manning and Andrew Miles reported the results suggested in their study of data from the Health and Retirement Study.

Religion may be at its most important in the final stages of life, some studies indicate.

Keeping the faith

In a study of 65 residents of five Texas nursing homes, the most common way people reported coping with stress appeared to be a stoicism “deeply rooted in their religiosity, specifically their trust in and gratitude toward God,” Namkee G. Choi, Sandy Ransom and Richard Wyllie reported in the journal Aging & Mental Health.

“I don’t go around thinking about if I’m happy or not happy. I don’t say, ‘I don’t have this or don’t have that.’ I’m just grateful for what I’ve got. The Lord’s been good to me – I mean, to someone that was born … during the Great Depression and with no more education than I had. I just . . . I just use what God gave me,” one 86-year-old woman told researchers.

But there is an important caveat to the positive effects of religion on aging, one that parallels in the spiritual realm the advice of financial professionals of saving early and often for a secure retirement.

There is no quick-fix approach to finding the spiritual resources necessary to cope with the trials of old age, researchers indicate.

In their study on religion, quality of life, depression and trauma, Manning and Miles found short-term variations in religious practices had no effect.

In her own recent research with older adults, Manning discovered that spiritual continuity plays an integral role in the deep faith that allows many older individuals to cope with the effects of aging.

Many of the people she has interviewed speak of their relationship with God as a concrete relationship, “almost as if they would talk about their spouse or a best friend,” she said.

No amount of money can buy that type of faith.

One Response to “Investing in faith: Religion helps retirees stay mentally fit, studies indicate”

  1. It is fine. Religion and spirituality are necessary for each and everyone not only in the old age but from the beginning of the life. They teach us faith in God. In the present age, nobody believes in God or in His existence.
    Belief in God is to be cultivated to a person from his childhood itself. All religions teach the same Truth, that is, there is only one God and we are all His sons/daughters.
    God exists in all, He is at all places etc. etc. If that belief is there from childhood, he will survive satisfactorily through out his life, as long as He permits him to serve Him in His own way.

Leave a Reply

Search Ahead of the Trend

Please type your search term:

Archive Categories
Most Recent Columns
ARDA Affiliate
Primers & Tutorials
Connect with the ARDA

Our Most Popular Tags

Click on your desired tag, to view the available columns.

  • US Congregational Membership Reports

    Explore congregational membership in every county, state, and urban area in the United States. Based on the Religious Congregations and Membership Study collected by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies this is the most complete census available on religious congregations and their members.

    Enter your 5-digit zip code to see a
    religious profile now:
     

    National Profiles

    ARDA's National Profiles provide detailed data by country on religious adherents, religious freedom, demographics and a host of other social measures. Choose a country below to see its profile:

    US Denominations

    Our American Denominations feature provides detailed information and family trees for over 400 U.S. religious denominations.

    QuickStats

    Use QuickStats to browse dozens of topics and see reponses from major national surveys, demographic patterns, and changes over time! Available topics:

    QuickLists

    Use QuickLists to see rank-ordered data on religion in the U.S. and around the world. See our most popular topics:

    ...or browse through many more by visiting QuickLists.