How does religion affect the lives of people in old age/senior citizens?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the 17th Century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal developed a construct that helped to enhance the belief in a divine power.  Pascal's Wager was a means of reasoning that one should live their life in accordance to the belief in a divine power.  His reasoning was that when one reaches the end of their life, and there is a God, if they have lived their life with the belief that God does exist, they will be able to experience the rewards of such a position. At the same time, if it turns out that God does not exist, then individuals will not have suffered anything different by living their lives virtually.  However, if one does not live their life in accordance of the divine and there is a God, then Pascal argues that eternal damnation is present, and they have lost the wager.  While this might not necessarily explain the effects that religion has on senior citizens, it might help to illuminate some of why religion might be significant at this point in one's life.

It should not come as a surprise that research shows that many senior citizens embrace the notion of a higher power.  According to data from the Pew Research Group, over 90% of Senior Citizens embrace the belief in a higher power.  “Seldom do you see a poll that does not find senior citizens at one extreme or the other. This time it is a measurement of Americans who do not identify with any religion. It is a growing trend – to be religiously unaffiliated – according to Pew Research Center. But, seniors are not joining in – they are far less likely to be “unaffiliated” than any other age group."  Senior Citizens reflect the idea that religion at a later stage of one's life is something to be embraced and understood:  "Religion is an important socioemotional resource that has been linked with desirable mental health outcomes among older U.S. adults."  One particular reason this might be is due to the fact that realities such as spiritual identity plays a significant role towards the end of one's life. At a point where one's thoughts might naturally drift towards the end of one's life, a condition with real and definable features, whether or not there is a God and how religion feeds this condition is something definite within senior citizens.  At the same time, if one experiences health challenges and conditions surrounding physical pain, it is natural to embrace the condition of religion as a part of being in the world:

When it comes to the matter of sickness, death and dying, religion becomes uniquely important if not indispensable in bringing the elderly person to a warm and comfortable acceptance of this inevitable experience.  The influence of a religion and a strong faith in a caring God who is in control and can be trusted, helps the person achieve victory over death.  It can offer a healing touch for people who feel nobody loves them or need them.... [and can help] in sometimes finding new meaning and direction in the remaining years of their lifetime.

The conditions of being elderly can help to explain how religion can impact senior citizens.  Faith in religion can help to alleviate the issues of physical pain and suffering, and even death.  In many industrialized parts of the world, becoming a senior citizen is very synonymous with being alone and isolated from one's family.  Religion can help to fill that void in channeling one's own pain into faith of the divine.  In other words, even when human beings have abandoned the senior citizen, the divine is still there.  Finally, when seeking to make peace with the reality of death, it is religion that might offer answers where science and philosophical thought come up short.  This is yet another way in which religion can impact senior citizens.  In the end of one's life, it becomes clear that part of Pascal's Wager lingers, helping to illuminate the impact that religion can have on the senior citizen, on us as we get older.

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