A new University of Florida study has found that elderly people turn to God as they approach death. This is especially true if they were not spiritually inclined during their earlier days. The study, which appears in the March issue of Research on Aging, says that talking about God may actually increase the fear of dying in such people.
The study followed 103 relatively healthy older adults and 19 hospice patients in North Central Florida all of who were over 60. Sharp differences were apparent between people who are "intrinsically" and "extrinsically" religious. Monika Ardelt, a UF sociologist said that intrinsically religious people were dedicated to God, while extrinsic people used religion as a way to increase social standing. "I think the take-home message is that if you cannot commit your life to God or a higher power, it is better to be nonreligious than to be religious for the wrong reasons," she said. Extrinsically religious people might have problems at the end of their lives since they may be made to see that they are not morally prefect. "Being exposed to the doctrines and teachings of their church, they knew what they were supposed to do, but they may not necessarily have been doing it," she said. "So they may be more afraid of the payback when they die than people who don't believe at all." She said that these findings were important since people usually felt that bringing up religion helped the elderly. "For these extrinsically religious people, there is some real existential struggle going on at the end of life," she said.