Cameron Freeman Internet Marketing, Soci-Cultural Antropology

Cameron Freeman

Does religion have an affect on the cognitive health of the elderly?

Happy Valentine's Day!

On Friday 11, 2011 -- The Oneg Shabbat began on a sad note as one of the clients in the palliative care unit passed away. He had been attending the Shabbat service, often reciting the Shabbat prayers for the service over the past few years. He would definitely be missed by both the clients and the volunteers. A powerful way to comfort mourners is to encourage them to remember the deceased, so Alan, one the volunteers who leads the Shabbat service, opened by telling those present who had passed, saying further, "Ha'makom yenahem etkhem betokh she'ar avelei Tziyonvi'Yerushalayim" (May God console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem). Alan explained, by remembering "our friend____________, he will continue to live in our hearts". Despite the loss of one who was dear to those present, the Shabbat service, much like the previous week included, music, singing and hand clapping, prayers and blessings and of course challah, wine and candle lighting to signify the commencement of Sabbath.

As part of my course objectives, I reflected more about my role at Baycrest as a "Friendly Visitor and Escort" and how participating in their program of cognitive support could apply to my "Literature Review" assignment which requires that I take an informed position on the question of religion as a public good. Sally Promey asserts that display is "fundamental to the process of constructing a human reality" and that the "public display of religion is something people do" and thus "what we see contributes to our sense of who we are, collectively and individually" (Promey p. 47). With this in mind, I have been exploring the relationship between religion in the public sphere and how it contributes to the physical and mental health of the Baycrest patients and residents.

Based on my initial observations and participation with the elderly at Baycrest in a religious environment, I would say that there are positive emotional benefits being enjoyed by patients, volunteers caregivers and hospital staff. My own personal sense of being uplifted emotionally-spiritually every Friday is a bright spot in my day and the other volunteers seem to express similar feelings. The joy and appreciation expressed by the two elderly women with dementia when I arrive to escort them to the Kabbalat Shabbat (something they would not normally be able to attend because there are no staff available to do so) seems to have a very therapeutic affect on them. Both women experience a connection with their Jewish community and faith. One of the women, interprets the entire Hebrew service for me, elaborating on the meaning of the prayers and blessings. I can't help but imagine there must be some cognitive benefits to remembering the various aspects of their faith and communicating those thoughts to another person. Furthermore, the socialization and physical exercise of getting up and out of their residence to the main floor is also helpful. My experience raises a number of questions:

  • How does the use of religion contribute to the cognitive health of the elderly?
  • How does the use of religion contribute to emotional-mental coping strategies of caregivers and family members?
  • How does religious commitment play a role in preventing or improving an elderly person's physical and mental illness?
  • How does religion facilitate coping strategies with illness and does it facilitate recovery?
  • Does religion exert a primary-prevention effect against morbidity and a positive association with psychological well-being?
  • Is there a relationship of behavioural and attitudinal measures of religiosity to the overall health status in elderly patients?
  • Is there a relationship between frequency of prayer and attendance at worship, importance of faith and use of religion in coping with physical pain, general health and vitality, social functioning and emotional and mental health?


Sally M. Promey, "the Public Display of Religion" in The visual Culture of American Religions pp. 27-48
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