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Event explores impact of faith on the elderly

| Friday, April 11, 2014

This week’s exploratory spirituality session, Spirituality Monday, took place Thursday and examined faith in the context of aging populations.

Senior biology major Haley Koth shared her senior composition project research findings at the Saint Mary’s Center for Spirituality-sponsored meeting. 

SMC Spirituality, Caroline GencoCaroline Genco | The Observer

While religion is, “the active expressing of spiritual beliefs through traditions in an organized faith community,” spirituality is comprised of the “personal attitudes that come from belief in a higher power,” Koth said. They are considered separate from but can include religion, she said.

Koth sought to relate the two distinct terms with the help of 23 sisters from Saint Mary’s Convent and 17 residents of Holy Cross Village, a senior living community. All participants but one identified as Catholic; one individual was Protestant, Koth said.

“I set up meetings with people who demonstrated interest,” Koth said. “We discussed the benefits and the risks and the confidentiality and objectives of the study.”

With the information from residents aged 60 through 100, Koth began to research the possible correlation between spirituality and health through a survey. The survey consisted of three parts, health and well-being, religion and spirituality, and basic information questions.

When she concluded and began to analyze her research, Koth said she discovered  “people who reported significantly higher levels of religiousness and spirituality also tended to report significantly higher levels of health and well-being.”

Koth said it is important to note that “this [correlation] is their perception of their own health and it is not an actual measure of how healthy they are.”

According to Koth, there have been more than 2,000 studies on religion and spirituality in the last four years.

“In many studies the two are combined into the term religious spirituality,” she said.

Koth said she conducted her research in a short time period and she wondered how the results would change if her study continued through a time span of multiple years.

“It would be interesting to see whether a person’s spirituality fluctuates along with changing health over a period of time,” Koth said.

Koth, a biology major with minors in chemistry and religious, has studied both fields and brought them together in her research.

“I kind of look at religion and spirituality from a scientific type of standpoint,” she said.

The next event in the Spirituality Mondays series will take place Monday in the Student Center. Jill Vihtelic, professor of business and economics, will discuss spirituality and global business.

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