Why Faith is Important in a Nursing Home

Why Faith is Important in a Nursing Home

Dorothy L Williams-Brooks

As a new resident to a nursing home makes the trek from the car to an assigned room, some things become abundantly clear. Hope can give way to hopelessness. Mental health can soon deteriorate, and choices can give way to regiment and removal of freedom. How can life on the “inside” be as hopeful as possible? If the resident comes equipped with faith it can anchor the soul, spirit and physical body so that the winter of life is not stormy and dark.

Faith is not just a sunny outlook. It is substance on which we can stand, even as our bodies change. It is complete trust or confidence that is usually developed over time and through experience. It is different from religion or spirituality because it involves a deep relationship with the object of our faith: God, a person, or people. It can be acquired at any point in life. However, the development of faith requires removal of risk aversion and a development of trust, characteristics that are harder to acquire later in life.

Religion, religiosity or spirituality depend on outward acts. Faith is personal and intimate. It involves the heart and spirit of a person. It can travel with someone as they transfer from outside freedom to a room in a nursing home. Even as health conditions change, dementia or end of life approaches, faith can anchor the emotions and even increase  when supported by bonding with others and nurturing.

My brother, Carter, has been in a nursing home for over seven years. His residency in the home was required because of several strokes. In the beginning, his faith in both people and in God was small and undeveloped. After the death of our parents, there was a distance in our sibling relationships. His relationships with others were shallow, although many people knew his name. My sister visited consistently, and over time his heart began to open, to her, other family members and to God. Change in his demeanor and outlook were noticeable. It was easier to be around him. Family members were more eager to support him in the nursing home by visiting or purchasing items. His faith changed his view of his world and his circle of nurturing people expanded.

Faith can stave off health challenges by encouraging positive outlooks and healthy living. It could also help nursing home residents with dementia by slowing cognitive decline. My brother’s mind is still sharp and he is eager to learn, although some dementia is present. As I look back on his time in the nursing home, I discovered that there are some tips we learned about how one can support resident family members that want to practice their faith.

  • Faith can be nurtured and will grow by hearing. Playing music with positive lyrics or even no lyrics can positively impact the spirit.
  • Refrain from simply playing the television on all news stations or just letting them stare at mindless entertainment.
  • Play Biblical sermons, TED Talks or other stimulating or stirring presentations.
  • Arrange for choirs or musical groups to perform.
  • Gather residents and read to them. Follow-up by asking questions.

People of faith see death as a transition, and not as the end of existence. This can happen particularly when their faith has been nurtured in the nursing home. If death is seen as an inevitable end of hope, dreams and light then the initial walk or ride from the car to a nursing home room can feel like a death sentence. However, each day is an opportunity to live (or die) with purpose and a positive attitude when faith is present and nurtured.

“Seniors and Spirituality: Health Benefits of Faith”, 2017, https://eldercarealliance.org/blog/seniors-and-spirituality-health-benefits-of-faith/

Rob Noll “The Surprising Links Between Faith and Health 5 ways your faith improves your health.”, 2014, https://relevantmagazine.com/life5/surprising-links-between-faith-and-health/

Robert L. Rubinstein, Helen K. Black, Patrick J. Doyle, Miriam Moss, and Sidney Z. Moss, “Faith and End of Life in Nursing Homes,” Journal of Aging Research, vol. 2011, Article ID 390427, 7 pages, 2011. https://doi.org/10.4061/2011/390427.