Friday, 22 August 2014 | MYT 12:00 AM

Being religious linked to less depression in elderly

Religious participation helps the elderly with depression. - Filepic

Religious participation helps the elderly with depression. - Filepic

Religious participation correlated with better mood, says study.

People in the study who often attended religious services were less likely to report symptoms of depression during the two-year study, researchers found.

Religious participation can reduce isolation and loneliness, two factors associated with depression. – Filepic

And those with signs of depression at the start of the study were less likely to be depressed two years later if they engaged in frequent private prayer.

This kind of so-called “observational” study, where researchers have no control over their study subjects, can’t prove cause and effect. It can’t say, for example, whether people became depressed because they didn’t participate in religious activities, or whether the depression itself was the reason they didn’t participate – or whether something else was at play.

“It would be wrong to say ‘religion is good for you’ - this paper is not saying that,” says Dr Gary Kennedy, who directs the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

Kennedy, who was not involved in the new study, adds, “But from a clinical perspective, what I ask my patients is, ‘Have you abandoned or have you given up your religious practice in association with your depression?’”

He says that if the answer is ‘yes,’ he’d encourage the person to go back to their faith.

The authors of the study say doctors should be aware of their patients’ religious needs and that improving access to places of worship may be helpful for religious older adults.

Being part of a religious community creates more social connections for older adults. – Filepic

“Frequent service attendance is associated with more social connections, which can reduce isolation and loneliness, two risk factors for depression,” says Corina Ronneberg, a graduate student and researcher with the Department of Gerontology at the John E. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies of the University of Massachusetts Boston. She led the study, which was published in The Gerontologist.

“Private prayer may serve to cultivate hope and activate cognitive resources that eventually counter depression,” Ronneberg says.

Ronneberg and her colleagues analysed survey responses from the large Health and Retirements Study conducted by the University of Michigan. Depression was measured with an eight-symptom scale – participants were determined to be depressed if they reported three or more symptoms of depression.

The researchers found that depressed and non-depressed participants had similar religious affiliations, but non-depressed participants attended worship services frequently: 45% did, compared to 37% of depressed individuals.

Religious practices may cultivate hope and active cognitive functions that beat depression. – Filepic

Also, Ronneberg says, “The group of respondents who were not depressed at baseline were less likely to be depressed at follow-up two years later if they attended religious services frequently.”

Participants from the group who were depressed at baseline were also more likely to have recovered from depression at follow-up if they engaged in more frequent private prayer.

Ronneberg said family members should ask their parents and loved ones if their religious needs are being met and work with them to meet those goals. “If an older adult (is) interested in attending services in the community but cannot do so because of deteriorating health, perhaps family members can accommodate them by accompanying them to services,” she says.

Family and healthcare providers should be aware of older adults' religious needs. - Filepic

Ronneberg adds that places of worship could also reach out to older adults and try to work with them to meet their religious needs. Also, she says, health care providers should be aware of older adults’ religious needs and, if necessary, develop plans of care that meet those needs. – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Depression , elderly , religious , study


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