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A Haven of Healing
The Benefits of Church Membership for Seniors
By Elmer George
Courtesy of Pexels.com
Spiritual growth and fellowship are two of the most common reasons people give for attending church regularly. Church is a haven, a communal home where people find comfort, emotional support and companionship among those they know well. That’s particularly important for seniors, who often suffer from isolation and depression.
Older adults benefit emotionally and psychologically from the opportunity to worship with others and share common interests. The companionate aspect of the social interaction seniors get from attending church boosts seniors’ mental health and lowers serum cortisol levels, which is elevated in individuals who experience feelings of loneliness.
Emotional support systems
Being part of a church community makes people feel like part of a family and offers an opportunity to take part in a church’s social mission. Seniors benefit from the social networks and functions that are so central to church life. Friendships result and meeting on a weekly basis allows for a regular sharing of experiences, fears and health concerns that might not be possible otherwise. Social groups and volunteerism forge lasting relationships that often substitute for a lack of family interaction, which seniors face when relatives live far away. In other words, a church congregation may become a second family for seniors. The emotional benefits can be rejuvenating, even lifesaving.
The consequences of loneliness for seniors can be severe. Elevated blood pressure and stress levels make sleep difficult. Depression follows and feelings of well-being are undermined. Loneliness increases the likelihood of premature death in seniors by up to 14 percent. In fact, isolation is nearly twice as lethal as obesity in contributing to early death. Strong social networks encourage seniors to take better care of themselves than they would if left to themselves. Seniors also tend to make better health decisions when church friends show concern for them. They become more active and more enthusiastic about life in general. Most importantly, their self-esteem improves, which produces health benefits people often gain when they have a renewed sense of purpose.
That sense of purpose is strengthened by volunteerism and the charitable work that churches often do in the community. Volunteerism allows seniors to contribute their life experiences, knowledge and skills in ways that might not be available to them otherwise. Studies have shown that volunteerism reduces depression and contributes to a longer, healthier life. In fact, doctors often recommend that older adults involve themselves in volunteer activities as a way to feel better about themselves.
The power of prayer
Prayer is a form of contemplation founded in the fundamental belief in a higher power. Prayer is known to give people feelings of solace and reassurance. It can be a powerful means of restoring faith and hope in difficult times. For lonely older adults, prayer is an invaluable emotional asset, a means of communicating with God. The meditative qualities of prayer and inner contemplation have many health benefits. Studies have shown that meditative practices can increase brain density, reduce stress, helps people cope with powerful emotional states, facilitates relaxation and draws on feelings of gratitude and hope.
Mobility is often a problem for seniors, who may lack the ability to get to church. Many seniors aren’t able to drive a car or find a ride to and from church. Public transportation gives seniors an affordable means of getting around, via bus routes or subway lines. Many communities offer volunteer driving programs, and most churches have volunteers who are willing to provide transportation for their elderly members.
Church plays a crucial role in the lives of lonely senior citizens. It is a source of spiritual strength and social interaction. Church membership prevents depression and makes older adults feel relevant and wanted.