Why is it important to stay connected later in life?

Meaning, purpose and connectedness is integral to quality of life.

“The World Health Organisation views spirituality as inextricably linked to quality of life”.

Numerous studies demonstrate that spirituality is significant for older people, including reduced loneliness, improved mental health and resilience in ageing. Just a few examples:

  • self-reported spirituality was the strongest predictor of Adjustment to Ageing (AtA) (von Humbolt et al 2014),
  • spiritual support (both religious and nonreligious) is a vital factor in well-being and quality of life at end of life (Nichols 2013),
  • spiritual beliefs can affect the strategies people use to cope with illness (George, Koenig & McCullough, 2000; Williams & Sternthal, 2007),
  • religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes including greater longevity, coping skills, health-related quality of life, and less anxiety, depression and suicide (Mueller, Plevak and Rummans 2001),
  • spirituality is related to lower anxiety about ageing and increased positive health and well-being outcomes amongst baby boomers. It can buffer the effects of experiencing significant life events (MacKinlay and Burns 2017),
  • elderly people in residential care with a healthy spiritual life are less likely to be depressed than those who have an empty life or occupy themselves with activities (Fleming 2002), and
  • spirituality can influence older adults’ experience and perception of life events, leading to a more positive appraisal of these events as meaningful (Cowlishaw, Niele, Teshuva, Browning and Kendig 2013).

What are the benefits of the inclusion of spiritual care?

Research by experts have found that including spiritual care can relieve depression and anxiety (Oh & Kim 2012). Also:

  • group spiritual reminiscence offered mutual support between group members, sharing in a trusting environment, and new friendships (MacKinlay 2006),
  • family ratings of care provided to those in long term care at end of life were higher for those who received spiritual support or spiritual care, compared with those who had not (Daaleman, Williams, Hamilton & Zimmerman 2008),
  • people had a sense of feeling unique and cared for, and others felt stronger to cope following spiritual care interventions (Narayanasamy & Owens 2000), and
  • a systematic review of research exploring dignity therapy, a type of spiritual care, for terminally ill patients found that dignity therapy improved the sense of meaning and purpose, will to live, utility, quality of life, dignity and family appreciation in studies with a higher level of evidence (Donato, Matuoka, Yamashita & Salvetti (2016).

Full references are all available on the Meaningful Ageing Australia website.

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How Malinka is enjoying life

Since experiencing spiritual care in action Malinka has enjoyed a greater quality of life.

Staff have processes where they spend time understanding more about what really matters to Malinka. The carers take a moment to talk with her whilst they support her with dressing and showering. The kinds of activities and groups she is invited to are connected to what has meaning for her. Malinka has always loved gardens. She has been introduced to other people who love gardens and asked to help make decisions about what kinds of plants should be grown on the property. She has been visited by a new kind of staff member who is really good at listening, and interested in Malinka’s long life story, including exploring her beliefs and values. They have even talked about what she is afraid of. Many people think that accepting aged care means they are on the path into invisibility and dependence but in fact with the right care, you can feel more alive than you did before.