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Donna Mae Scheib

The Importance of Spirituality for Seniors

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on September 29, 2021

The Importance of Spirituality for Seniors

Ongoing research reports that those individuals who are older typically long for a sense of connection, comfort, and meaning in their lives. These are some of the very things that a spiritual life provides. People of any age may also share in this feeling. However, the feeling seems to be more prominent for those who are in their later stages of life.

This article addresses the concept of spirituality and a person’s spirit, some thoughts about spirituality as people age, typical behavioral changes for those spiritually-inclined seniors, several aspects of spiritual care, and various activities that can heighten spirituality.

What is spirituality?

Simply put, spirituality involves purposeful questioning of our life’s purpose, how it is best to live our daily lives, what things seem to matter the most, and what happens to us and our loved one’s afterlife on Earth.

The myriad of questions surrounding the topic of spirituality often causes people to think a while before responding. And the given answers among those asked can be quite personal and even profound. To some people, spirituality involves the practice of a particular religion, a belief in a higher power, or a shared philosophy. To other people, spirituality is a deep emotion that is felt at various times in their lives. Most people agree that spirituality and religion can be two different things.

What is meant by a person’s spirit?

Although at times, “a person’s spirit” is difficult to describe in words, a human spirit can be defined as a force that animates the core of your inner being. Therefore, a spiritual experience provides some type of inspiration and insight into oneself. The spiritual experience can be triggered by special activities or events, meeting and interacting with people, being out in nature, reading a meaningful text, viewing artwork, listening or playing music, etc.

Why do many seniors think about spirituality as they age?

Research scientists acknowledge that the aging population does, in fact, think about spirituality. They think about spirituality a lot. These researchers report that many life factors undoubtedly play a significant role in a senior’s interest and involvement in spirituality. Some of these factors include retirement, loss and grief, physical decline, increased free time, and awareness of encroaching mortality.

  • Retirement - Retirement brings changes to daily activity and roles that were assumed for a long period of time in a person’s “former” life. The inevitable shift now is away from raising and supporting a family as well as from a full or part-time career. This often causes someone to think about what they will do now (and in the future) to fill up their time each day.
  • Loss and grief – Loss and grief are experienced more often as family members and friends pass away. More time is spent reflecting on these individuals’ legacies and the memories of their lives as well as the senior’s own life. They may rely on faith or spirituality to help deal with the loss, to offer sympathy and compassion to those impacted, and to bring inner peace with the death itself.
  • Physical decline – Physical decline opens up the person to a state of vulnerability as seniors may wonder about health concerns, daily living assistance, etc. They may look to someone to bring them comfort and more freely express thanks for these services.
  • More free time – More free time exists to think about life and to reflect on their own lives. The varied past experiences may well bring them closer to others and deepen their sense of understanding and empathy of people and the world.
  • Awareness of one’s mortality – The awareness of mortality as people age leads to questions about what happens after death to themselves and their loved ones. Spirituality can grant them the peace needed when they have unanswered questions and/or need the strength in dealing with the unknown.

What are some typical behavioral changes for seniors who are spiritually inclined?

  • Display a deeper sense of empathy and care
  • Value the friendships and connections they have and are willing/able to seek out new ones
  • Experience silence and solitude more frequently and value spending time alone
  • Live more in the present as opposed to only the past filled with memories or the future with worries about what is to come
  • Take more time to reflect throughout the day about their actions, their impact on others, and their life plans
  • Value inner being (personal satisfaction, happiness, and peace) as opposed to external things (materialistic items, etc.).

What is meant by the term “spiritual care”, specifically for the aging population?

Spiritual care involves spiritual guidance usually provided through a chaplain or another spiritual counselor who can help older individuals deal with their myriad of health issues, any emotional grief or loss, and other important life circumstances. Spiritual care for a senior then can lead to an increased comfort level, a sense of peace, and the strength to deal with difficult situations (e.g., terminal illness, impending death, etc.). For those seniors who practice a specific religion, spiritual care allows them to participate in certain rituals and practices of that religion. It is also helpful when a person is near death and they can be reassured about what happens afterlife (again, for that specific religion or belief).   

What are some spiritual activities that seniors can benefit from?

There are plenty of documented studies that attest to the benefits of spiritual activity. First of all, it’s necessary to understand what is meant by spiritual activity. If an activity you do brings enjoyment and makes you feel happy and alive, or if the time spent in that activity gives you a feeling of deeper connection and fulfillment, then it is considered a spiritual activity. These are some of the activities that medical personnel has reported to boost spirituality, specifically in the senior population:

  • Volunteering towards a worthy cause
  • Spending time outside and with nature
  • Meditating
  • Participating in prayer groups or devotional time
  • Talking about memories and sharing stories
  • Listening to music or playing music
  • Having a massage
  • Dancing
  • Doing yoga
  • Writing/journaling to expand your thinking or reading inspiring works
  • Creating something through arts/crafts
  • Engaging in interpersonal connection (e.g., holding hands, hugging someone, having eye contact through engaging conversation, being included in social events)
  • Experiencing solitude

Summary

There is little doubt that spirituality is a valued dimension of life and can bring people closer to others. It can also help people better understand their life and life’s purpose. Although spirituality may be defined and experienced differently by individuals, there are some common behaviors that result in those more spiritually inclined. In addition, there are spiritual activities that have been known to provide a benefit to spirituality for seniors which in turn increases their quality of life.

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