- Spiritual, religious and cultural dimensions play an important role in the lives of individuals, particularly with illness or end of life care.
- Those who have reached old age have a story to tell. They need to be listened to and feel they have lived a meaningful life.
- One way to honour their journey is by paying attention to their spiritual needs, reflected in faith, hope and love.
Spirituality and Religion
- Spirituality refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose in life. It can include a relationship with God/higher power or with family or with cultural communities. It can change over a lifetime and be affected by illness and dying. Religion is the formalized system of worship with beliefs and behaviours shared by others.
- Patients want to be asked about their spiritual beliefs, when admitted to hospital, with serious illness or during routine history taking by their health care provider.
Why should spiritual issues be dealt with?
- It allows patients to cope especially if isolated from families and their religious communities.
- It can influence medical decisions/compliance with proposed therapies.
- It can impact mental and physical health outcomes such as depression, cardiovascular risk, stress hormone levels and possibly mortality.
- It influences the relationship between the patient and health care provider.
An Environment of Trust
How do we foster an environment of trust when the spiritual domain is addressed?
- Reflective listening is encouraged to understand and nurture the faith of the individual. Encourage faith-based activities such as prayer if that has been important in the older adult's journey.
- Reinforce effective coping behavior to maximize health. Help the older adult see their options. Include the older adult in decisions that affect them, listen to them, and show respect for their thoughts, feelings, values, and suggestions. This will promote a sense of value, dignity and hope.
Invite the older adult to share their pain. This allows them to transfer their grief into mourning and eventually healing. It will also help them experience love. Love can be a great healer and is a universal human need, no matter what age.
Targeting spiritual interventions
- When spiritual need is expressed or when spiritual distress is evident, the appropriate referral to pastoral care is made after consent is obtained.
- Specific interventions include prayer, counselling, religious text, meditation, participation in other faith practises, use of the arts or music.
Personal and professional development relating to spirituality
- Health care professionals should ask similar questions of themselves regarding the meaning of life and religious affiliation during times of quiet reflection.
- As healthcare professionals are more attentive to their own spirituality and sense of call to serve others, they will find more meaning in their own work and coping abilities.