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Religion, Prayer Linked to Better Mood in Elderly


A new study reminds us to check in with our older family members to make sure their religious needs are being met. According to the researchers, spiritually active older adults—those who attend religious services and pray frequently—tend to have less depression than their non-religious counterparts.

For the two-year study, published in the journal Gerontologist, researchers analyzed survey responses from 7,732 individuals as part of the Health and Retirements Study conducted by the University of Michigan. Of these, 1,992 participants were found to be depressed.

The researchers found the following results based on the data:

  • Participants who were depressed at the beginning of the study were more likely to be depression-free at follow-up if they had been engaging in frequent private prayer.
  • Participants who were depression-free at the beginning of the study were more likely to remain depression-free at the end of the study if they attended religious services frequently.
  • Although depressed and non-depressed volunteers had similar religious backgrounds, depression-free participants were more likely to attend worship services (45 percent), compared to depressed participants (37 percent).

Lead author Corina Ronneberg encourages family members to ask their parents and older loved ones if their religious needs are being met and, if not, to work with them to help meet their needs.

She adds that if an older adult would like to attend a religious service in the community but cannot do so because of poor health, then perhaps family members can help them by accompanying them to the service.

Ronneberg also advises churches and other places of worship to reach out to older adults and assist them if necessary. She adds that even health care providers should be aware of older patients’ religious needs and, if necessary, help develop plans of care to meet those needs.

The researchers note that attending a religious service on a regular basis can help older adults develop more social connections. These social opportunities can help reduce isolation and loneliness—two strong risk factors for depression.

Although the study does not confirm a cause and effect relationship between attending religious services and reducing depression, the findings reveal a strong correlation between the two. Do you know an older adult who suffers with depression? Or someone who would like to attend a religious service, but is unable to do so? Ask what you can do to help. You may be the answer to prayer.

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional freelance writer who specializes in psychology, science, health, and spiritual themes.  Some of her most recent work includes covering the latest research news in science and psychology, writing science chapter books for elementary students, and developing teacher resource books.  When she is not researching and writing, she is spending time with her family, reading anything and everything, and going to the beach as often as possible.

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