Older adults who regularly engage in religious activity, such as prayer or attendance at services, are less likely to develop depression and more likely to recover if they’re already depressed, according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Gerontology Department, located in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults over 65 suffer from depression—a rate four times higher than the general population. The researchers analyzed the onset and progression of depressive symptoms among 7,732 older adults over two years—about a quarter of whom reported depression. Their findings were published in the journal The Gerontologist.
Religiosity had a “protective effect” against the disorder, researchers found. Respondents who were not depressed at the beginning of the survey period were less likely to develop symptoms if they had participated regularly in religious activities, and those who were suffering from depression were more likely to have recovered.
Lead researcher Corina Ronneberg said that while the effect was positive for both depressed and non-depressed elders, the mechanisms behind each change were likely different.
“Frequent service attendance is associated with more social connections, developed in and sustained by congregations. These connections can reduce isolation and loneliness, thus avoiding the onset of depression,” Ronneberg said. “For those who are already depressed, private prayer may serve to cultivate hope and activate cognitive resources that eventually counter the disorder.”
Ronneberg says family, friends, and community members can help older adults take advantage of this protective effect by offering to accompany them to religious services, providing transportation, or arranging home visits from clergy.
“Religion plays a prominent role in the lives of Americans, especially older adults,” Ronneberg said. “Family members should ask their loved ones if their religious needs are being met, and work with them to meet those goals.”
The study, titled “The Protective Effects of Religiosity on Depression,” was co-authored by UMass Boston professors Elizabeth Dugan, Edward Miller, and Frank Porell. Read the entire study here.
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