The Elderly and Religion: Statistics, Benefits, and More

Approximately 63% of Americans identify as Christian, followed by 5% who identify as Jewish, Muslim, or Mormon, 5% who follow other religions, and 26% who are not affiliated with any religion. 

These rates are higher in the elderly. In fact, older generations are considerably more likely to follow an organized religion and prescribe to its philosophies. In this guide, we’ll look at the benefits and potentially harmful effects of religion for the elderly, while highlighting some surprising statistics.

Main Benefits of Religion for the Elderly

Generally speaking, elderly people who prescribe to a specific religion are healthier in both body and mind. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but overall, they are happier and healthier, and when you focus on the specifics it’s easy to understand why.

Imagine that someone is 70-years old, has some mild mobility issues, and lives alone. They are independent and their mind is sharp, but their spouse died 10 years previously and they don’t have many friends to spend their time with.

Now, if that person were a Christian, then over the next decade we would expect them to visit church every week and to attend events, either as a participant or volunteer. At these events, they can meet people, form new friendships, and even start dating. 

If that faith didn’t exist, and it was the only differentiating factor, we wouldn’t see those things and their health would suffer as a result.

Of course, you don’t need to go to church and be religious in order to make friends within the community. However for many elderly Americans who live alone, especially those who live in small and highly-religious communities, it really is a case of “church or nothing.”

Their faith may also support their mental health. Someone who believes in God and thinks they are being helped is more likely to make it through a prolonged illness and to feel content with their purpose in life.

Other Benefits of Religion for the Elderly

A religious person is less likely to smoke or drink heavily and, on average, they attend more classes and events outside of church. In other words, while the stereotype of a regular churchgoer is someone who does everything through their local church and community, the research suggests they also participate in non-religious events and groups, particularly those of a charitable nature.

For example, 39% of non-religious people in the United States are involved with 1 or more non-religious charitable organizations, but this increases to an impressive 58% for religious individuals. 

It harks back to what we said above, which is that they are more likely to be active in their community and to reap the mental and physical benefits of this activity.

Harmful Effects of Religion for the Elderly

In lonely and isolated individuals, religion is more likely to cause obsessive-compulsive and narrow-minded behavior. Many religious sects are intolerant toward specific groups and may promote negativity toward these groups. In addition, they may reject western medicine in favor of alternative therapies, including prayer, herbs, and chants.

Of course, it’s all down to the individual and it’s possible to be both religious and tolerant, just like it’s possible to devote yourself entirely to religion while still embracing western medicine.

In the grand scheme of things, however, a religious person is considerably more likely to reject medicines and transfusions, and less likely to embrace people of all races, cultures, genders, and preferences.

Should You Try to Convert a Non-Believer?

You can’t force religion on anyone. This can be a difficult concept for some believers to accept, as they think they are doing a good thing by encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. Regardless, religion is something that must be discovered on one’s own. 

As a family member, you should always be accepting of a loved one’s choice, regardless of whether they choose not to believe or to follow a faith that is different from yours.

The exception is when they are being led astray by a cult. Many cults target vulnerable people, especially those who have a lot of material wealth. Seniors aren’t their usual victims, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appear in the crosshairs every now and then.

Be wary, ask questions about your elderly relative’s new faith, and make sure they haven’t been conned.