Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Older Adult Writing Workshop, Religion and Mental Health (Research, Gospel Video 3:09)

Recently, I facilitated a Poets and Writers, Inc. older adult, writing workshop in which participants wrote personal stories about successful aging after 60.  I noticed that their stories had continual references to religious reasons for overcoming challenges. They spoke of having prayer partners, enjoying numerous blessings, reading the Bible, and just being alone talking to Jesus. Their praise of a Higher Power was so strong that it became common during readings for someone to shout out a religious affirmation such as “Give God the glory!” or “Thank you, Father!” when fellow writers shared their experiences. One man included the partial singing of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as part of his presentation. A woman’s story revealed that music talks to her with “I’m Gonna Make It After All” being her favorite gospel song.

Research shows that several aspects of religion such as prayer, meditation, coping strategies, service attendance, relations with God, and congregational support have positive influences on mental health. This national research on older adults listening to religious music suggests similar benefits with these results:

1) The frequency of listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in death anxiety, increases in life satisfaction and self-esteem, and a sense of control.
        2) The frequency of listening to gospel music is associated with a decrease in death anxiety and an increase in a sense of control.
        3) These findings are similar for blacks, whites, women and men, and individuals in low and high socioeconomic groups.

Religion is an important socioemotional resource linked with positive mental health for older adults. This study shows that listening to religious music may promote psychological well being in later life. Because religious music is so available, it can be a valuable resource for promoting mental health later in life.

Growing up, I had the good fortune of listening on the radio to Mahalia Jackson, whom many revere as the greatest gospel singer ever. Called the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. You can view Mahalia Jackson on this video singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.


  1. I have seen a dementia patient sing along with our chaplain to old hymns after not saying a word for 3 years according to the nursing home staff. They were astounded. I have another who used to sing the hymns, then hum the hymns and now she can no longer talk. However, when I play hymns on my iPhone Pandora, she moves her lips and raises her hands in praise. There are studies that music touches a part of the brain not impacted by dementia the same way speech is, and I have been able to connect with music.

  2. Thanks for sharing those interesting and inspiring stories that demonstrate the wonderful power of music.