October 16, 2019
With spirituality playing large roles in many people’s lives, questions remain about how religion impacts a person’s health and well-being. While previous studies have found that individuals with long-lasting health conditions benefitted from religious and spiritual practices, there is limited research looking at the impact of spirituality and religiosity on the progression of an illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
A recently launched joint study by researchers at Baycrest and Argentinian research institutes - the Fleni Institute (Buenos Aires), the Kremer Private Institute (Córdoba) and Consultants (Mar del Plata) - will shed some light on this.
Building on an earlier Baycrest study, researchers will explore whether a person’s level of religiosity and spirituality affects their decline in thinking and memory skills, as well as their development of behavioural changes among individuals with Alzheimer’s or those at a stage that precedes Alzheimer’s disease (mild cognitive impairment).
The earlier study, published in 2007, found that higher levels of spirituality and private religious practices were linked to slower progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
“There was no a priori
reason why those who would score high on a measure of spirituality or religious practices should decline at a different rate than those who didn’t, unless there was some relationship,” says Dr. Morris Freedman, head of neurology at Baycrest, scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and one of the researchers on the study. “We still don’t know what exactly that relationship is. This follow up study will pave the way to uncovering the mechanism that explains this.” Dr. Freedman is also neurology professor at the University of Toronto.
One of Dr. Freedman’s previous fellows, Dr. Janus Kremer, along with a neuropsychologist from the Kremer Private Institute, Dr. Priscila Elliott, will lead the study in Argentina. This new study will cover a broader population, including individuals with mild cognitive impairment and their caregivers.
“Our objective now is to replicate and expand upon our findings to a different geographic area and have a better understanding of the impact of the caregiving environment on Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Elliott. “Religion and spirituality could have beneficial effects on health through a physiological, psychological, social and theological level, which could be helpful in advising clients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”
The research team is also exploring the potential of similar studies in other communities around the world to ensure reliable results.
Since the original study, there have been a number of studies looking at the relationship between spiritual well-being and its impact on health and this upcoming study will confirm whether these findings apply to other populations as well, adds Dr. Yakir Kaufman, a former Baycrest behavioural neurology fellow who was the first author in the original study, a behavioural neurologist and head of professional standards for Israel’s Ministry of Health.
The study is expected to be completed by 2021. Other Baycrest staff involved in the research include Drs. Gary Naglie, Adriana Shnall, Malcolm Binns and Rabbi Dr. Geoffrey Haber.
Baycrest is a global leader in geriatric residential living, healthcare, research, innovation and education, with a special focus on brain health and aging. Fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest provides excellent care for older adults combined with an extensive clinical training program for the next generation of healthcare professionals and one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience, the Rotman Research Institute. Baycrest is home to the federally and provincially-funded Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector, and is the developer of Cogniciti – a free online memory assessment for Canadians 40+ who are concerned about their memory. Founded in 1918 as the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home, Baycrest continues to embrace the long-standing tradition of all great Jewish healthcare institutions to improve the well-being of people in their local communities and around the globe. Baycrest is helping create a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfilment. For more information please visit: www.baycrest.org
About Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute
Now in its 30th year, the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest is a premier international centre for the study of human brain function. Through generous support from private donors and funding agencies, the institute is helping to illuminate the causes of cognitive decline in seniors, identify promising approaches to treatment and lifestyle practices that will protect brain health longer in the lifespan.
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Michelle Petch Gotuzzo
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