Patterns of religious practice and belief in the last year of life.
Although it is frequently assumed that issues of religious faith become more salient at the end of life, there is little or no population-based empirical evidence testing this assumption.
Using data from the New Haven site of the Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly (N = 2,812), the authors examined self-reports of attendance at services, self-ratings of religiousness, and strength and comfort felt from religion for respondents who did and did not die within 12 months following an interview. Religiousness was assessed at baseline (1982) and in follow-up interviews in 1985, 1988, and 1994. Cross-sectional comparisons of levels of religiousness were made among persons in their last 6 months of life, persons in their last 12 months of life, and persons who survived 12 months, and longitudinal comparisons were made with religiousness at the previous wave.
After adjusting for age, sex, education, marital status, religious affiliation, and a set of health status measures, the authors found that although attendance at religious services declined among the near-deceased, this group showed either stability or a small increase in feelings of religiousness and strength/comfort received from religion. Overall levels of attendance and religious feelings were high for this religiously diverse sample.
Community studies of respondents in their last year of life are rare. In this sample, religious involvement appears to continue throughout the last months of life.
Idler, EL; Kasl, SV; Hays, JC
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