For many adults, the relationship they have with a god or divine being is a key aspect of their identity. In addition, when faced with the daily problems of living, older adults use their religious faith more than anything else, including family or friends, as a coping mechanism (Krause, 2003; McFadden,

1996) . When asked to describe their most frequent ways of dealing with problems in life, nearly half of the people surveyed in one study listed coping

346 CHAPTER 9
strategies associated with religion (Koenig et al., 1988). Of these, the most frequently used were placing trust in God, praying, and getting strength and help from God. These strategies can also be used to augment other ways of coping. Spouses caring for partners with Alzheimer’s disease also report using religion as a primary coping mecha­nism (Ishler et al., 1998).

As a key factor in understanding how older adults cope, researchers are increasingly focusing on spiritual support, which includes seeking pastoral care, participating in organized and nonorganized religious activities, and expressing faith in a God who cares for people. McFadden (1996) points out that even when under high levels of stress, people such as the Buddhist monks in the photograph who rely on spiritual support report better personal well-being. Krause (1995, 2003) reports that feel­ings of self-worth are lowest for those older adults with very little religious commitment, a finding supported by cross-cultural research with Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs (Mehta, 1997). Van Ness and Stanislav (2003) find that high religious attendance was associated with lower cognitive dysfunction in older adults. However, Pargament and colleagues (1995) also note the importance of individual dif­ferences in the effectiveness of spiritual support,

HOW DO
WE KNOW?