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Faith in the Future

Healthcare, Aging, and the Role of Religion

By Harold G. Koenig and Douglas M. Lawson

Paperback. 224 Pages

Combining demographic predictions with current examples, Koenig et al. make a convincing case that religion will be an important resource for coping with the coming elder care crisis, which will begin in earnest in 2011 when the first Baby Boomers turn 65. Koenig, a geriatric psychiatrist at Duke University and author of The Healing Power of Faith, has already attracted attention by publishing studies on the health benefits of religious participation—including some findings that are stronger than even most religious believers might have expected. Both membership in a faith community and individual spiritual practice are significantly correlated with longer life spans, shorter hospital stays and reduced incidence of depression.

In light of these results, which the authors acknowledge are open to interpretation and further study, they suggest that religious organizations, volunteer networks and especially local congregations will be indispensable in caring for older adults and helping them care for each other. Can these resources actually meet the challenges of demographic shifts, uncontrolled inflation of health care costs and expectations and the tendency of Boomers (and later generations) to have weaker connections to religion and family than today's seniors? That is another question; and as the authors concede, health care and political institutions will be slow to change. But at a minimum, congregational leaders and volunteers will find encouragement for their efforts, and more than likely, a few new reasons and strategies for getting involved.