July 27, 2004 -- If an illness puts you in the hospital, being religious may help you get out sooner and be less likely to wind up in a nursing home, a new study shows.
Although researchers say many studies have looked at religion's impact on overall health, little is known about the effects of religion on the use of hospital services or long-term care facilities.
In this study, researchers found religiousness and spirituality seemed to have a particularly beneficial effect on women and blacks. Among these groups, the study showed that recently hospitalized people who participated in organized or private religious activities, such as reading the Bible and prayer, were less likely to be in a nursing home or use one in the future.
The study also showed that people who participated in organized religious activities, such as going to church or synagogue, tended to spend fewer days in the hospital and were hospitalized less often. However, this association was weak, and researchers say can be explained by the fact that people who attended religious services were in better overall health to begin with.
Religion Helps at the Hospital
In the study, which appears in the July 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers measured religious and spiritual activity among 811 patients 50 years or older who were admitted to the hospital.
- Organized religious activity
- Nonorganized religious activity
- Watching or listening to religious radio or TV programming
- Self-rated religiosity
The study showed that only organized religious activity was associated with shorter hospital stays and fewer hospitalizations. But that effect disappeared once current health status was taken into account.
Researchers also found that many forms of religious activity and spiritual experiences were associated with less use of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Greater social support partially explained these effects, but the effects of religion and spirituality remained significant, especially among women and blacks.
Among these groups, religious and spiritual characteristics were also associated with less use of nursing homes over time.
"If other studies confirm these findings, addressing religious and spiritual needs during hospitalization and mobilizing the religious community for support after hospital discharge may help to keep patients at home and out of [long-term care facilities]," write researcher Harold Koenig, MD, of Duke University Medical Center, and colleagues.
Researchers say many factors may help explain the robust effects of religion found among blacks. For example, the church plays a central role in many black communities and provides a valuable source of social support.
"Families and friends of religious African-Americans -- who may also be quite religious -- might feel obligated to provide care at home rather than admit a loved one to a nursing home," write the researchers. "Taking care of elders at home has a long tradition within the African-American community for both cultural and religious reasons."