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New Survey Data: Do Older Adults Want to Discuss Spirituality & Religion with Doctors?

Feb. 8, 2023

Most older Americans prefer to keep their health care and their spiritual or religious lives separate, a University of Michigan poll finds, which was detailed by Kara Gavin on the site

But they do see a role for their healthcare providers in helping them cope with illness by looking for meaning or hope.

In all, 84 percent of people between the ages of 50 and 80 say that they have religious and/or spiritual beliefs that are somewhat or very important to them, including 71 percent who cited religious beliefs and 80 percent who cited spiritual beliefs, according to new data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging. About 40 percent of these older adults say those beliefs have gotten more important to them as they grow older.

Among older adults with religious or spiritual beliefs that are important to them, 19 percent say their beliefs have influenced their healthcare decisions, and 28 percent say they want healthcare providers to ask them about their beliefs.

Meanwhile, 77 percent of all older adults, regardless of beliefs, say healthcare providers should keep their own personal beliefs separate from how they deliver care.

The poll is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

For the report, the poll team worked with Adam Marks, M.D., M.P.H., a hospice and palliative care physician at Michigan Medicine, and L.J. Brazier, M.Div., a chaplain at Michigan Medicine’s Department of Spiritual Care.

“While 45 percent of older adults say their religious beliefs are very important to them, and 50 percent say that about their spiritual beliefs, even this group largely wants to keep this aspect of their lives separate from their healthcare,” said Marks, an associate professor of geriatric and palliative medicine. “But a sizable majority of all older adults – whether or not they say belief is important to them – reported that they’d turn to healthcare workers to help them find deeper meaning in their illness, and 78 percent believe healthcare workers will help them find hope when they’re having a health-related challenge.”


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