How spirituality can affect caregiving

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New study shows how spirituality can help people achieve better health outcomes

According to a recent study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, asking questions about a patient’s spirituality can and should be part of caregiving. Additionally, spirituality could play a vital role in health care for people with serious health conditions and benefit an individual’s overall well-being.

Spirituality is a broad term to describe the many ways people experience meaning, purpose, and value in life. For some, it might go through religious tradition. For others, it is through means such as connection with nature or family. | Credit: Center for better aging

“Spirituality, the source of a person’s fundamental meaning, purpose, and values, is important to health because it is often the foundation for understanding and managing health issues and how informed decisions are made. by health are taken,” says Dr. Tracy Balboni, one of the study’s lead authors and chief medical officer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard.

Although spirituality can include religion, church service, or other traditional activities, it is not exclusive to these forms of worship.

For example, “if a person’s core value is their connection to their family, the way they cope with illness and make decisions about it will often be framed by family relationships. power, or God can deal with health issues by relating to God, like prayer.”

She adds, “Their medical decisions will likely reflect the values ​​most consistent with the character and teachings of such a higher power.”

The International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care defines spirituality as “the way individuals seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value, or transcendence.” Although spirituality can include religion, church service, or other traditional activities, it is not exclusive to these forms of worship.

Some may view spirituality as a connection to the land, a commitment to others, or following an organized group of traditions that resonate with their beliefs.

“Spirituality is a broad term that includes the myriad ways in which individuals experience fundamental sources of meaning, purpose, and value,” Balboni says. “For some, it involves a particular religious tradition. For others, it’s through avenues like connecting to nature or family.”

Spirituality & Health

Addressing a patient’s spirituality can affect their overall health. For example, the American Cancer Society suggests that people involve spirituality in their quality of life while faith helps them through their illness.

Additionally, a 2021 study of breast cancer survivors at the University of Missouri’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center linked interventions such as prayer and mindfulness practices to better outcomes for patients with breast cancer. cancer and those living with a chronic illness.

These studies can offer a tool to caregivers in the event of serious illness, when patients have mobility problems or suffer from isolation and loneliness. The simple act of asking questions about a patient’s spirituality or desire for a faith-based outlet can easily be added to compassionate patient-centered care.

Additionally, these conversations can lead to better medical decision-making, including visits from chaplains or others trained in pastoral care. Finally, professionally, and perhaps even personally, a caregiver could benefit from considering the importance of spirituality in health care.

“Recognizing and responding to these fundamental sources of meaning is essential to maintaining a person’s well-being in the face of illness.”

“This information reminds caregivers and medical professionals that we are spiritual; we all have sources of fundamental meaning, purpose and value that underpin our approach to life, illness and death. themselves, our loved ones and our patients,” says Balboni.

“Recognizing and responding to these fundamental sources of meaning is essential to maintaining a person’s well-being in the face of illness.”

Balboni explains that when patients find fundamental meaning and purpose at work, they can experience a spiritual crisis if sudden illness robs them of their ability to perform. In this scenario, “their grounding has been removed and they need emotional and spiritual support to help them discover new sources of meaning, purpose and value. Neglecting spirituality in illness can lead to worsening suffering”.

Balboni believes that caregivers and medical professionals should consider religious or spiritual needs and approach health issues with this in mind until death.

“A child caring for an aging disabled parent with strong faith living in a nursing home may speak to the nursing home chaplain or religious community leaders to request regular spiritual practices such as prayer and communion for their loved one,” says Balboni.

“Ensuring a continuous connection to spiritual sources of meaning and value – whatever form they take – can be essential to maintaining quality of life and dignity before and until the end of life.”

Addressing Religion and Trauma

The Harvard study also notes that focusing on spirituality could dredge up past traumas related to religion or spiritual practice.

“While spirituality is often a positive source of meaning, purpose, and value, it can also be a source of suffering (called spiritual distress or spiritual pain),” says Balboni. “A person who has already been the victim of abuse or rejection by a religious community may have deep spiritual wounds.”

“A person who has found their fundamental meaning and purpose in their work may feel spiritually hurt by losing that calling due to illness.”

“On the other hand, a person who has found their basic meaning and purpose in their work may feel spiritually hurt by losing that calling due to illness. Therefore, the first step in dealing with the distress spirituality is to recognize it and provide opportunities for the individual to share spiritual suffering when they are ready, or to invite others, such as a chaplain, to explore these issues together.”

One way to foster these conversations is to ask. “Ask a general question about their spirituality, such as ‘do you have a spiritual practice, faith, or other way of finding meaningful meaning and purpose for you?’ This opens the door for the person to describe their spiritual pain. , which can then trigger a reference to spiritual supports such as a chaplain,” says Balboni.

However, promoting these dialogues, which require asking open and non-confrontational questions, can also provide an opportunity to respond with empathy and support. Ask elderly people or patients if they would allow you to put them in touch with someone who can help them not only with their illness, but also with their trauma.

In short, “given the evidence supporting improved health outcomes for those involved in spiritual communities, addressing spiritual health before serious illness can improve the well-being of those facing or at risk to develop a disease,” says Balboni.

“That said, there is a lack of evidence to talk about the impact of spiritual care on healthy populations. This is an area for future studies and research directions.”

Rosie Wolf Williams
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