A little training boosts the spiritual side of elder care

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Workshops for elder care clinicians significantly improved their comfort and ability in identifying and helping address spiritual needs in their patients, research shows.

Many nursing home residents rely on spirituality or religion as a way of coping with health and social issues. But patients with advanced diseases say their spiritual needs often aren’t being met, and many of the nurses, social workers, and personal care assistants who help them feel unprepared to respond to these needs.

“These are people who are trained to help in a certain way, and they aren’t necessarily prepared for the religious or spiritual needs that arise,” says Wendy Cadge, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University.

Participants in the workshops learned to provide spiritual support appropriate within their professional roles, and to refer patients to chaplains when an expert level of care is called for in circumstances of spiritual distress or religious need.

Using actors to portray situations in which an individual or family member might benefit from spiritual support, the project provided a one-day training workshop for care providers, who took surveys before and after the workshop. On a scale of 1 to 5, the average score for perceived ability improved from an average of 3.1 to 4.5, while comfort improved from 2.8 to 4.2.

The researchers are now working to scale up their approach.

The study was a collaboration between Brandeis and Hebrew SeniorLife, a Boston-based senior care nonprofit. Support came from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

Source: Brandeis University