A 2002 study published in “The Journals of Gerontology” revealed a link between church-based support and health and wellness in senior citizens. The gerontology study found that older adults who attend church regularly generally feel that their congregations are cohesive, and that seniors who are part of cohesive congregations gain emotional and spiritual support from their fellow congregants. This leads to a deeper, more connected relationship with religion, which yields a strong sense of optimism and well-being which, in turn, produces better health than is typical among seniors who lack such support.
Loneliness and social isolation are facts of life for a great many American senior citizens. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 28 percent of older adults age 65 and over live alone. Most don’t live with children, and are increasingly likely to live alone the as they age. With few family members around to provide care and company, loneliness can be a chronic problem among the elderly. Health problems, retirement, and decreased mobility only make the situation worse.
Loneliness increases the likelihood that depression will set in, which often leaves an older adult vulnerable to depression. Being part of a church congregation helps older adults stay busy and provides a built-in means of regular social engagement in a nurturing, non-judgmental environment. Meeting new people at church and beginning new friendships stimulates seniors from a cognitive standpoint and opens up new opportunities for activities at church and in the general community.
Power of prayer
One of the most powerful emotionally healing benefits of church for seniors is engaging in group prayer. Studies have shown that communal prayer helps seniors attain an elevated sense of well-being, reduces stress, and even leads to improved physical health. Prayer is a central feature of most church services, offering another opportunity for spiritual healing. Ministers and pastors are always available to pray with seniors who are feeling sad or detached, which helps reinforce a sense of belonging to a community.
Many seniors suffer from restricted mobility, due to medical issues or prolonged periods of inactivity. Attending church gives them an opportunity to get out of the house, walk around as they meet and greet fellow congregants, sway to liturgical music and prayer, and walk to the altar during the service. Such physical movement is important for circulatory and coronary health, and it’s a good way to help keep high blood pressure under control. Older adults who become accustomed to the physical requirements of getting ready for church and moving around during services are sometimes encouraged to get more involved in church activities and in helping maintain church facilities.
Getting to church can be a challenge for many seniors, particularly those who aren’t able to drive anymore. Most churches have some form of volunteer driving service to help the elderly get to church and back each weekend. Public transportation is a viable option regardless of one’s age. Many seniors take a taxi to get to church; today, there are several phone apps that can make it easy to arrange for a cab ride.
Engaging in worship instills a peace of mind and inner peace that can be valuable to seniors, especially those who live alone. Being part of a church community may be even more important for helping seniors stay active and healthy. It may be the only source of emotional support and love they get living in isolation.