Cameron Freeman Internet Marketing, Soci-Cultural Antropology

Cameron Freeman

The importance of religious attendance for subjective well-being among the elderly

In the March 2011 "Baycrest Matters" newsletter, there was an article about a groundbreaking Bravo study, which is investigating whether volunteer activities improve older adults' physical, cognitive and psychological function. Senior scientist, Dr. Nicole Anderson (picture left) and Syrelle Bernstein, director, Volunteer Services (right) presented at the International Association of Volunteering Efforts conference in Singapore in January 2011, highlighting the benefits for the elderly volunteering at Baycrest. Anderson and Bernstein noted that volunteering increased physical, cognitive and social activity which helps volunteers preserve their brain health and decrease their risk of dementia.

My observations, which I humbly admit only encompasses a little over 40 hours of volunteer service time, would concur with the observations of Anderson and Berstein. My volunteer activities at Baycrest involves participation in the Oneg Shabbat and the Kabbalat Shabbat where I work with several Jewish volunteers, both, men and women who are well into their eighth decade of life. Many have logged thousands hours of volunteer service. Interestingly, they all still drive their cars to Baycrest. Their conversations with me are intelligent and animated. They are physically engaged in activities, such as shuttling clients to and fro from various floors to the Shabbat service. Moreover, they are socially gregarious with the clients, encouraging them to sing, read the blessings and cite prayers during the service. This appears tremendously helpful and rewarding for clients. The general attitude of the volunteers is positive, happy, and grateful. Furthermore, their participation in their Jewish tradition is important to them, providing a sense of well-being for themselves as well as contributing to the well-being of others.

The notion that religion plays a role in act of "aging well" has led to a general agreement that religion may have a beneficial effect on subjective and physical well-being among older adults. Thus, social service agencies, health-care professionals and facilities, and places of worship have noted the religious needs of older adults and made efforts to promote their ability to practice their faiths. Many studies highlight the importance of religious attendance for subjective well-being among older adults. Research has produced some pragmatic importance of religious involvement for the elderly and though participation in one's faith is not a panacea for their psychological-cognitive health, it has shown promise of facilitating some positive results (Barkan 2003:126).

In another study, the association of public religious involvement led to better functional ability and lower levels of depression. It was concluded that religious involvement assisted an individual's ability to act to modify perceptions as well as real situations of distress associated with suffering from aging and the decline of physical health and functional ability. The argument being, there is a significant association of physical decline and disability with distress, and the Judeo-Christian tradition offers many interpretive-coping strategies for physical pain and suffering (Idler 1987:229).

Baycrest has been recognized many times for its leadership in adult brain innovations and their advocacy efforts on behalf of the elderly suffering from cognitive and emotional disorders. Baycrest's sympathetic support and promotion of their client's religious involvement would appear to support the hypothesis that religiosity has a positive effect on its elderly clientele.


2011. Baycrest part of global meeting on volunteering. Baycrest Matters. (March 9th, 2011) Vol. 7, No. 5., pp.1-8.

2003. Barkan, Steven E., Greenwood, Susan F. Religious Attendance and Subjective Well-Being among Older Americans: Evidence from the General Social Survey Review of Religious Research, Vol. 45, No. 2 pp. 116-129

1987. Idler, Ellen. Religious Involvement and the Health of the Elderly: Some Hypotheses and an Initial Test. Social Forces, Vol. 66, No. 1, pp. 226-238
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