Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found an apparent correlation between religious practices and changes in the brains of older adults.
“One interpretation of our finding — that members of majority religious groups seem to have less atrophy compared with minority religious groups — is that when you feel your beliefs and values are somewhat at odds with those of society as a whole, it may contribute to long-term stress that could have implications for the brain,” said Owen, who was lead author of the study. “Other studies have led us to think that whether a new experience you consider spiritual is interpreted as comforting or stressful may depend on whether or not it fits in with your existing religious beliefs and those of the people around you,” Hayward said. “Especially for older adults, these unexpected new experiences may lead to doubts about long-held religious beliefs, or to disagreements with friends and family. “Several studies have found that, for many people, belonging to a religious group seems to be related to better health in later life, but not all religious people experience the same benefits. This study may help us to understand some of the reasons for those differences,” Hayward said. While this stress may be a plausible interpretation of the findings of this study, the authors caution that not enough detail is known about the mechanics of how stress affects brain atrophy.