Study: Older Americans fight stress with prayer

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2001

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Many older Americans use prayer to ward off stress, a study shows.

Researchers from the University of Florida and Wayne State University in Michigan found that 96 percent of older adults use prayer to specifically cope with stress.

In addition, nurse researchers found that prayer is the most frequently reported alternative treatment used by seniors to feel better or maintain health in general.

UF College of Nursing associate professor Ann Horgas and Karen Dunn, a Wayne State University doctoral student, interviewed 50 people at six community senior centers and one church in Detroit in 1999. The interviews were conducted over a period of a few months and the average age of the respondents was 74.

The study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Holistic Nursing, found that 84 percent of the respondents reported using prayer more than other alternative remedies to feel better or to maintain their health.

According to the study, prayer is used more often than exercise, heat, relaxation techniques, humor or herbal remedies to maintain overall health.

''This study shows that prayer may help minimize the negative effects of stress and help seniors maintain an optimum level of health,'' Horgas said. ''The next step in our research will be to examine the actual effects of prayer on mental and physical outcomes.''

Seventy percent of the respondents were women, 48 percent were white and 52 percent were black. Almost half the respondents were Catholic (48 percent), followed by Protestants (46 percent) and the remainder were classified as other.

''There were few differences among these groups in the use of prayer as a coping strategy,'' Dunn said. Women and blacks were more likely to use prayer to cope with stress than men and whites, she said.

Horgas said older adults are at high risk for stress, particularly because of deteriorating health, chronic illness, pain, multiple losses from the death of friends and family, and the need to accept that death may be imminent.

Seniors who prayed or used other spiritual treatments also were found to use more positive and self-reliant coping strategies, Horgas said.

''All of us have events in our lives that can cause stress,'' Horgas said, ''so it's important that people have more than one way to manage that stress when it occurs; prayer seems to be one important way for many older adults.''

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