Spirituality and Aging

Wellness

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” – Rumi

When you look into the dimensions of wellness, you’ll see things like physical, emotional and intellectual wellness. You’ll also see spiritual wellness. What is it and why does it matter as you get older?

What is Spiritual Wellness?

Simply put, it’s about being connected to something greater than yourself and having a set of values that guide your actions. The National Wellness Institute defines it as “the search for meaning and purpose in human existence.”

One of the beauties of spiritual wellness is that the pursuit of it is unique for each person. Spiritual practices should support who you are and give you a framework for navigating each stage of life. Many people prefer to practice kindness and gratitude, while others exercise their creativity or are mindful about connecting with nature and others. And for some, this includes faith and religious practices. But whether or not you subscribe to a particular religious world view, your spiritual well-being is integral to your overall well-being, especially as you get older.

Spirituality and Aging

Research continues to show that older adults experience higher levels of well-being and better health when they integrate activities related to mind, body and spirit into daily life. It’s not hard to see how intellectual and physical wellness improves life, but how does the spirit fit into it all?

Here are just a few ways spirituality is connected to your overall well-being:

  • Involvement in spiritual or religious pursuits is associated with fewer strokes, lower rates of hypertension, and less reported pain from illness.
  • Spiritual people are more likely to participate in regular community service, which can protect against stress.
  • Spiritual people report being happier and being more satisfied with family life.
  • They also tend to be more resilient and have a lower risk of depression and suicide.
  • Spirituality often brings a built-in community, which impacts health, happiness and longevity.
  • Religion and spirituality for the elderly with dementia appear to slow cognitive decline, help them use better coping strategies, and have a better quality of life.
  • Spirituality also helps people find purpose, and reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Practicing Spiritual Wellness

How can you start improving your spiritual wellness? An article from the American Society on Aging identifies 10 spiritual practices that can benefit older adults.

  1. Breathing — Mindfully focus on your breathing to bring greater awareness of your body and the gift of life. It can also be a form of prayer or meditation.
  2. Gratitude — Looking for both small and large graces of each day adds meaning and positivity.
  3. Wonder — Allow yourself to be amazed by the world and the people around you.
  4. Creativity — Find new ways to express yourself and challenge yourself to experience new things.
  5. Kindness — Give others the benefit of the doubt, or make that extra little gesture in order to increase your capacity for compassion and empathy.
  6. Releasing — Lighten your physical and emotional loads by letting go of excess possessions and expectations, as well as old resentments or wounds.
  7. Connecting — Make new connections with people, and be intentional about maintaining good relationships with family and old friends.
  8. Resting — Give yourself permission to slow down and create a little oasis in your day as a way to rejuvenate yourself.
  9. Making music — Add rhythm and energy to your day by humming, singing or playing some kind of instrument, even if you can’t carry a tune.
  10. Being who you are — Say yes to the things that bring you joy and say no to those that don’t. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you. What matters is that you live as your authentic self.

What Does Spiritual Wellness Look Like in Senior Living?

As you research senior living options, it’s important to investigate how each community supports spiritual wellness. As more communities recognize the need for a holistic approach to wellness, it’s becoming easier to find the type of spiritual support that meets your needs.

  • Faith-based senior living communities — Nearly 85% of the largest not-for-profit senior living communities have some type of faith-based affiliation. You’ll find Catholic-, Protestant- and Jewish-affiliated communities as well as some Buddhist and other faith-based communities. While open to people of all faiths, these communities are rooted in the traditions and values of their founding religious group.
  • Focused spiritual support — Many senior living communities offer some form of religious programming and support resident-run faith-based groups. You’ll find on-site services, transportation to local churches and synagogues, resident-run Bible study and prayer groups, meditation classes and counseling.
  • General spiritual opportunities — If you’re not looking for religious outlets, senior living communities are likely to have quiet places to meditate, ways you can interact with nature, opportunities to volunteer and serve others, classes and programs to feed your creativity and, of course, plenty of ways to foster social connections.

Putting spiritual practices into place now and making sure you have spiritual support wherever you live will go a long way toward helping you age well in mind, body and spirit.

SOURCES
National Wellness Institute
Spirituality and Aging. Medscape, 2010
American Journal of Public Health
Psychology Today
International Psychogeriatric Association
American Society on Aging
Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine
Ziegler Investment Banking