Harvard researchers link spirituality to healthier living and longer lifespan



Researchers believe that spirituality should be integrated into patient care.

Spirituality is associated with improved health outcomes and patient care.

According to a study by experts from the Harvard School Of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, spirituality should be integrated into care for serious illnesses and general health.

“This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic review of the modern health and spiritual literature to date,” said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. and professor of radiation oncology. at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in critical illness and health should be a critical component of future person-centered care, and the findings should stimulate further nationwide discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this kind of values-sensitive care.

“Spirituality is important to many patients when thinking about their health,” said Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Harvard Chan School. “Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their illness.”

The study, which was co-authored by Balboni, VanderWeele and lead author Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of Public Health Leadership Practice at Harvard Chan School, was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Balboni, VanderWeele and Koh are also co-chairs of the Cross-Faculty Initiative on Health, Spirituality and Religion at Harvard University.

Spirituality is defined as “the manner in which individuals seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value, or transcendence,” according to the International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care. It may involve organized religion, but it also includes ways to discover ultimate meaning through connections with family, community, or nature.

Balboni, VanderWeele, Koh and colleagues reviewed and assessed the highest quality evidence on spirituality in critical illness and health published between January 2000 and April 2022 in their review. 371 of 8,946 critical illness publications met the study’s strict inclusion requirements, as did 215 of 6,485 health outcome papers.

A Delphi panel, an organized, interdisciplinary group of experts, then assessed the strongest collective evidence and produced consensus implications for health and healthcare.

They noted that for healthy people, participation in the spiritual community – exemplified by attendance at religious services – is associated with a healthier life, including greater longevity, less depression and suicide, and less consumption. of substances. For many patients, spirituality is important and influences key disease outcomes, such as quality of life and medical care decisions. Implications of the consensus included the integration of spirituality considerations as part of patient-centered health care and increased awareness among clinicians and health care professionals of the protective benefits of spiritual community participation.

The 27-member panel was made up of experts in spirituality and health care, public health or medicine, and represented a diversity of spiritual/religious views, including spiritual and non-religious, atheist, Muslim, Catholic, diverse Christian and Hindu denominations. .

The simple act of asking questions about a patient’s spirituality can and should be part of patient-centered, values-sensitive care, researchers say. Information gained from the conversation may guide other medical decisions, including but not limited to notification of a spiritual care specialist. Spiritual care specialists, such as chaplains, are trained to provide clinical pastoral care to a variety of patients, whether non-religious spiritual or from various religious traditions. The chaplains themselves represent a variety of spiritual backgrounds, including secular and religious.

“Neglecting spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the healthcare system and the clinicians trying to care for them,” Koh said. “Integrating spirituality into care can help each person have a better chance of achieving complete well-being and their best possible health.”

Reference: “Spirituality in Critical Illness and Health” by Tracy A. Balboni, MD, MPH, Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., Stephanie D. Doan-Soares, DrPH, Katelyn NG Long, DrPH, MSc, Betty R. Ferrell, Ph.D., RN, George Fitchett, DMin, Ph.D., Harold G. Koenig, MD, MHSc, Paul A. Bain, Ph.D., MLS, Christina Puchalski, MD, MS, Karen E. Steinhauser, Ph.D., Daniel P. Sulmasy, MD, Ph.D., and Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, July 12, 2022, Journal of the American Medical Association.
DOI: 10.1001/jama.2022.11086

The study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.


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