The Power of Faith

Enhancing Senior Well-being through Religious Engagement
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In the words of Derek Yach (World Health Assembly May, 1998): “From the inception, it was felt that the 4th Dimension of health was missing from its definition. The special group of the WHO Executive Board (1998) proposed that the Preamble of the Constitution should be amended as follows”:

“Health is a dynamic state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges the importance of mental and social well-being, which encompass spiritual aspects as well. The concept of spiritual health is recognized by many as an essential component of overall well-being. The definition acknowledges that health goes beyond mere absence of disease and encompasses various aspects of a person’s life.

It’s worth mentioning that the WHO recognizes the importance of spirituality in healthcare and encourages its integration into healthcare systems. Many healthcare professionals and organisations recognize that addressing spiritual needs can contribute to a patient’s overall well-being and quality of life.

There have been numerous studies exploring the relationship between spiritual or religious practices and health outcomes. While the specific findings can vary, there is a growing body of research suggesting a positive association between spiritual well-being and certain aspects of physical and mental health. Here are a few examples:

>Mental Health: Several studies have found that individuals who report higher levels of spirituality or religiosity tend to have better mental health outcomes. They may experience lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress and have a greater sense of well-being and life satisfaction.

>Coping with Illness: Research suggests that spiritual beliefs and practices can play a role in helping individuals cope with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high BP, cancer and heart disease. Spirituality may provide a source of comfort, hope, and meaning, which can positively impact psychological well-being and overall quality of life.

>Longevity and Mortality: Some studies have found a correlation between religious involvement and increased longevity or reduced mortality rates. This association may be attributed to factors such as healthier lifestyle choices, social support networks within religious communities, or a sense of purpose and hope derived from spiritual beliefs.

>Resilience and Stress Management: Spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, or mindfulness have been associated with improved resilience and better stress management. Engaging in these practices may promote relaxation, reduce psychological distress, and enhance emotional well-being.

>Substance Abuse Recovery: Research indicates that spirituality can be a protective factor against substance abuse, smoking and alcoholism, and aid in the recovery process. Spiritual beliefs and engagement in religious or spiritual practices can provide a framework for personal growth, social support, and a sense of meaning and purpose, all of which contribute to substance abuse prevention and recovery.

It’s important to note that while these studies suggest a positive correlation between spiritual well-being and health outcomes, they do not imply causation.

Moreover, research has demonstrated that prayers can significantly improve the mental health of senior citizens. A randomised clinical trial conducted by the International Islamic University Malaysia focused on an Islamic spiritual program and its effects on senior citizens. The study revealed that this program positively influenced the seniors’ outlook on life. Despite their illness and despair, religious practices helped them find greater meaning, resulting in improved mental well-being.

Another area of exploration is the impact of fasting on the mental health of senior citizens. A recent study by Ghazi et al. (2018) discovered numerous positive effects of Ramadan fasting on anxiety, insomnia, and severe depression among seniors. The improvement in mental health during this period can be attributed to the enhanced spiritual and religious experiences that seniors undergo, as well as the social support they receive. These factors contribute to the promotion of positive emotions such as optimism and perceived control, thereby creating a more meaningful purpose in their lives.

As a result of these findings, it becomes evident that senior citizens who actively engage in religious-related activities tend to exhibit lower levels of geriatric depression. This suggests that their strong commitment to spiritual and religious practices plays a significant role in maintaining their mental well-being.

An action research involving 100 senior citizens who exhibited a strong inclination towards spirituality were studied. The selection of these participants was based on specific criteria: (a) their adherence to the practices of their respective religions, (b) their regular recitation of holy scriptures, and (c) their active involvement in voluntary social service activities within their local community.

To assess the mental well-being of these individuals, a standardised Geriatric Depression Scale developed by Yesavage JA, Brink TL, Rose TL, et al (Long Form), consisting of 30 items was used. The collected data was analysed using percentage statistics and presented in a tabulated format, providing clear and easily understandable results.

The findings of this study revealed a potential link between spiritual inclination and a sense of connection with the Divine, fostering unwavering faith in the Creator’s mercy.

This study unequivocally demonstrates the positive impact and benefits of religious activities on the health and well-being of senior citizens.

Particularly noteworthy are the improvements observed in their quality of life and cognitive functioning.

These findings bring to light the significance of practising and actively engaging in religious activities for seniors, fostering a deeper understanding of the role it plays in promoting healthy and active ageing.

Dr Zubair Saleem is a Senior Geriatric Consultant and a Gerontologist and Dr Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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