Spirituality and the Elderly

As one ages, various challenges are more likely: most notably the loss of a loved one. Given this reality, a lot of older people encounter a spiritual evolution. It could be that they spent their whole lives connecting to a spiritual being/identity but since they lost their partner that changed, or vice versa. So when people do turn to spiritual healing the question is, is this satisfactory?

Two experts from the University of Huddersfield examined this matter via a Royal College of Psychiatrists publication in a book entitled Spirituality and Narrative in Psychiatric Practice. Within this, the Professor of Psychiatry for Older Adults at the University, John Wattis, together with the head of the Ageing and Mental Health Research Group there, Professor Stephen Curran, started to look at the different views of spirituality such as how it is defined in the secular world and how it relates to holistic healthcare. They stress how important it is to listen to patients tell their stories, under the umbrella of psychiatric aging healthcare. They encourage people in the field to “simply listen empathetically to the patient telling their story… This is a skill which is often acquired only after years of practice.”

Curran and Wattis explain that one of the tasks with which the elderly need to grapple is the adaptation of various life transitions “not all of which should be classed as losses.” Some of these life transitions are the grandchildren, for example. Some can be part-gain part-loss (retirement and relocation). There is also the loss of physical abilities and mental capacities with which they have to contend. Spirituality can often help with dealing with that.

For example, the researchers tell a story of a widow dealing with a stroke, who was helped by a spiritually-enlightened practitioner who helped her cope with her new status “in the face of the disintegrating pressures of personal loss and illness.”

So there can be a real place for spirituality in the lives of seniors. It can be extremely comforting and is definitely an area that should be considered by the elderly, and if not, by their caretakers who can more readily offer them resources to access this.