Methods: A probability sample of 3,968 community-dwelling adults aged 64-101 years residing in the Piedmont of North Carolina was surveyed in 1986 as part of the Established Populations for the Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly (EPESE) program of the National Institutes of Health. Attendance at religious services and a wide variety of sociodemographic and health variables were assessed at baseline. Vital status of members was then determined prospectively over the next 6 years (1986 1992). Time (days) to death or censoring in days was analyzed using a Cox proportional hazards regression model.
Results: During a median 6.3-year follow-up period, 1,777 subjects (29.7%) died. Of the subjects who attended religious services once a week or more in 1986 (frequent attenders), 22.9% died compared to 37.4% of those attending services less than once a week (infrequent attenders). The relative hazard (RH) of dying for frequent attenders was 46% less than for infrequent attenders (RH: 0.54, 95% CI 0.48-.0.61), an effect that was strongest in women (RH 0.51, CI 0.434).59) but also present in men (RH 0.63, 95% CI 0.52-0.75). When demographics, health conditions, social connections, and health practices were controlled, this effect remained significant for the entire sample (RH 0.72, 95% CI 0.64-.81), and for both women (RH 0.65, 95% CI 0.554-.76, p<.0001) and men (RH 0.83, 95% CI 0.69-1.00, p=.05).
Conclusions: Older adults, particularly women, who attend religious services at least once a week appear to have a survival advantage over those attending services less frequently.