Traditionally, conversations about health and well-being focus on the mind and body, but spiritual health is also important. Spiritual health is nurtured by seeking meaning, purpose, and transcendence throughout the lifespan.
"Some people's spirituality is deeply rooted in organized religion," said the Rev. Laura Mancuso, Spiritual Life Director at Vista del Monte retirement community. "Others are more practice-based than faith-based -- for example, a person who studies Buddhist teachings and meditates. Still others are agnostic or atheist. They may find meaning in the arts, they may experience transcendence in nature. To be effective, spiritual care should be highly flexible about the definition of spirituality."
How spiritual care helps older adults
As people age, they may be disheartened to discover they can no longer get away with the things they did routinely in younger decades, such as staying up all night and functioning fine the next day, Mancuso said.
"While people may experience diminishment in some form as they age, they can always find growth and satisfaction in the spiritual realm," she said. "Aging is a profound opportunity to forgive ourselves and others, and to heal lifelong wounds. These processes require effort and vulnerability, so it helps to feel a bit of urgency."
That’s why spiritual care at Vista del Monte is an integral part of the community.
"We support our residents' spiritual and religious lives on a highly individualized basis," Mancuso said. "It is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach."
The community offers regular religious services, shuttles to off-site services, spiritual counseling, and classes in mindfulness meditation, and life review. It also hosts memorial services and ceremonies honoring veterans.
Additionally, in partnership with the Center for Successful Aging of Santa Barbara, Vista del Monte created a peer counseling program called Caring Companions. Participating residents learn active listening skills, how to support those who are grieving, how to maintain confidentiality, and how to empower people to solve their own issues so they can support their peers through difficult times.
"I believe it's quite unique for a senior living community to train residents as peer counselors," Mancuso said. "One of our residents in his 90s said last week that his work as a Caring Companion is one of the most satisfying roles he's ever had in his entire life. Sometimes the volunteers benefit as much as the folks they visit."
When people continue to grow spiritually, they enjoy an improved quality of life, Mancuso said.
"Spiritual care helps people feel connected to their own sources of spiritual strength, and it reinforces the bonds of community," she said. "It can help to relieve spiritual, emotional, and mental distress. Spiritual depth and religious teachings also help to prepare one for death. Our modern culture is pretty allergic to talking about or even acknowledging death. But when we overcome that aversion, it helps us appreciate life all the more."
By continuing to focus on all aspects of a person's wellness, including spiritual health, Vista del Monte gives residents the tools they need to enjoy their lives in a diverse community of older adults.
This blog post originally appeared on the Noozhawk website.
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