Spiritual care recognizes and responds to the needs of the human spirit. It supports practices, beliefs and relationships that people find meaningful and often turn to for help in difficult times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chi-Ping Loreta Sinn, Kinesiology student at the University of Waterloo, along with Jane Kuepfer, Schlegel Specialist in Spirituality and Aging, wanted to explore what faith and spirituality means to older adults in senior living, and what role it has played in coping with the pandemic. Residents at the Village at University Gates were invited to complete a survey sharing their level of pandemic-related stress, spirituality, and use of religious coping strategies.
“As we listen and learn from residents about their experience of spirituality, or faith, we can learn what appropriate and accessible spiritual care looks like for them,” said Sinn, emphasizing it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Several older adults later participated in an interview with the researchers, where they were invited to speak about their life and faith and to reflect on their experiences during the pandemic. Through examining case studies of the participants and key themes that arose, the researchers aimed to explore the meaning and role of faith in resilience for each resident. They found that many older adults have lived lives of faith and that their understanding of God and spirituality has evolved and continues to evolve over their lifetime.
“Each life of faith is rich in unique stories, experiences, and lessons that contribute to each of our participant’s resilience in difficult times,” explained Sinn. “Participants articulated worldviews that shape the ways that they approach life, navigate challenging events, and discover or create meaning.”
Shaped by their faith, some of these views were the existence of hope, the belief that ‘someone’ is in control of one’s life and the world’s affairs, thinking about and making sense of suffering, the meaning of life, and the availability of divine love and care.
Not all older adults experience faith in the same way. Some older adults thought of their faith in terms of their beliefs about, and relationship with, God, and what that meant for their interactions with others and the world. Others talked less about God and instead described experiences, thoughts, values, questions, and aspirations that bring meaning, offer hope and comfort, and express a sense of connection with themselves, others, and the sacred. The pandemic may have the effect of prompting older adults to be more reflective about the transitions that they are experiencing at this age.
Keeping in mind older adults are not only people who receive spiritual care, but are also spiritual beings themselves, will help us all, as people who will grow old one day, to remember the potential within later life and the importance of engaging in spiritual work with older adults.
“There is an opportunity to create spaces for older adults in senior living communities to be heard deeply in a way that honours and acknowledges that many older adults have a wealth of experience in living a life of faith,” said Sinn. “In these spaces, older adults can explore their own narratives and reflect on their sense of who they are, who they are becoming, and their sense of God or spirituality throughout their lives.”