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Racial differences in religiosity and religious coping styles are linked to use of health care services by low-income older women

Asking older women about their religiosity and religious coping style during health assessments could help nurses set goals to improve the health of minority and other older women. It could also give them clues about potential church-related support, especially for low-income black women, for whom the church typically plays a large social role. In a study, supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS1164), researchers used several questionnaires to examine the religiosity, religious coping style, and use of health care services among 274 black women and white women aged 55 years and older living in subsidized high-rise housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Older black women perceived themselves to be more religious than white women. Black women also reported more organizational religious behaviors (attendance at church or at church-sponsored events) and non-organizational religious behaviors (such as praying, reading religious material, listening to gospel music, and reading the Bible). The self-directing religious coping style (relying on oneself rather than on God to cope with stressors) was associated with more physician visits for white women, who may assert control over their health with regular visits. However, this style was associated with fewer physician visits for black women, who may prefer to keep control in their own hands and minimize the extent of contact with the health care system, explains Pamela D. Ark, Ph.D., R.N., of the University of Central Florida.

The deferring coping style (one gives responsibility for coping with stressors over to God) was associated with more physician visits in the past 6 months and more hospital days in the past year among white women, but with fewer hospital days among black women. Deferring white women may put off seeking care, develop more severe symptoms, and eventually require longer hospital stays. Deferring black women may try to minimize their hospital stays, for example, by asking to be discharged as soon as possible. The collaborative coping style (people may pray to God, but also seek their own solutions) was associated with a high number of hospital days among black women, but had no significant effect on health care use patterns for white women.

More details are in "Religiosity, religious coping styles, and health service use," by Dr. Ark, Pamela C. Hull, Ph.D., Baqar A. Husaini, Ph.D., and Clinton Craun, M.A., in the August 2006 Journal of Gerontological Nursing, pp. 20-29.

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