Objective: Providing care to a loved one with dementia and the death of that loved one are generally considered two of the most stressful human experiences. Each puts family caregivers at risk of psychologic morbidity. Although research has suggested that religious beliefs and practices are associated with better mental health, little is known about whether religion is associated with better mental health in family caregivers. Our objective, then, is to explore the relationship between religion and mental health in active and bereaved dementia caregivers.
Methods: A total of 1,229 caregivers of persons with moderate to severe dementia were recruited from six geographically diverse sites in the United States and followed prospectively for up to 18 months. Three measures of religion: 1) the frequency of attendance at religious services, meetings, and/or activities; 2) the frequency of prayer or meditation; and 3) the importance of religious faith/spirituality were collected. Mental health outcomes were caregiver depression (Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression [CES-D] scale) and complicated grief (Inventory of Complicated Grief [ICG]).
Results: Religious beliefs and practices were important to the majority of caregivers. After controlling for significant covariates, the three measures of religion were associated with less depressive symptoms in current caregivers. Frequent attendance was also associated with less depression and complicated grief in the bereaved.
Conclusions: Religious beliefs and practices, and religious attendance in particular, are associated with better mental health in family caregivers of persons with dementia.