Objective: Prayer is generally recognized as an important aspect of religiousness. Relatively few empiric studies examined the relation between prayer and depressive symptoms in later life, and findings so far are mixed.
Method: Respondents, aged 60-91 years, participated in the third (N = 1,702) and fourth (N = 1,346) assessment cycles, with three-year intervals, of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam. Data were collected on frequency of prayer, perceived meaningfulness of prayer, religious affiliation, church attendance, salience of religion, demographics, and health variables. Depressive symptoms were assessed with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale.
Results: In the total sample, there was no significant association between frequency of prayer and depressive symptoms. Among those who were not religiously affiliated, prayer was associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. The results were particularly pronounced among nonaffiliated widowed respondents; odds ratio for praying daily associated with having Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale scores of 16 and higher amounted to 3.59 (99% confidence interval: 1.01-11.79). At three-year follow up, prayer did not predict change of depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: As secularization in Western Europe progresses, the current results suggest that clinical exploration of private religiousness among older patients remains relevant, also among people who seem to be less religious.