Older people s residences spiritual needs of older people good life in old age project
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Older people´s residences Spiritual needs of older people Good Life in Old Age –project. Arja Suni Master of Health Science (Nursing), RN arja.suni@ikainstituutti.fi. Background.

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Older people´s residences Spiritual needs of older people Good Life in Old Age –project

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Older people´s residencesSpiritual needs of older peopleGood Life in Old Age –project

Arja Suni

Master of Health Science (Nursing), RN



  • The mental health promoting tool was “Good everyday life in old age? Spiritual needs and elder care: Models of action”

  • The field trial started October 9th 2008 and ended May 28th 2009

  • Why this tool?

  • - Spiritual life is part of the history of an ageing person

  • - The fulfilment of spiritual needs promotes the psychosocial wellbeing of older adults

    • - The right to fulfil spiritual needs is a valuable part of good everyday life

  • - The spiritual dimension includes not only religious beliefs but also a sense of purpose and meaning in life

A. Suni 8.10.2009

The Aim

  • To develop methods for investigating the spiritual needs of older adults and how to answer them

  • To take into account individual religious and existential needs and habits

  • To understand the spiritual dimension as an issue of quality

  • To empower older individuals and their behaviour

A. Suni 8.10.2009

The Subjects

  • The setting for implementation: Inhabitants and staff at the Residential Home Päiväkumpu (private sector) in Helsinki

  • 17 older people between 70 –103 years, average age 75+ years

  • Male 15%, female 85%

  • Education: mostly secondary education

  • Illness: both physical and mental diagnoses

  • Staff: 9 nurses, voluntary workers and students of nursing

A. Suni 8.10.2009

Implementation process (methods)

  • There was a need to develop a personal questionnaire

  • Permission to carry out the project received in November 2008

  • Before the questionnaire was ready there were 7 planning meetings with the staff and the questions were tested verbally

  • The new tool included 17 questions about the spiritual needs and habits of the older people

  • Participants and family members were given information about the purpose of the study, the voluntary nature of participation, and assurances that anonymity and confidentiality would be maintained

  • A personal nurse of each older adult performed the interview (1 April –15 May 2009)

  • Information was gathered and evaluated

  • New daily work methods were created and tested

A. Suni 8.10.2009

Results: What gives you strength in times of adversity?

  • Put one’s trust in God and Jesus Christ

  • Find solace in arts, music, nature and friends

  • There is a carrying force in prayer

  • The close ones and nature are meaningful

  • 90 % of the residents prayed daily or when necessary

  • Almost all residents wished to say evening prayers together with their nurses

  • 90 % of the residents followed radio and TV prayers

  • 30 % of the residents wished for help in reading the Bible

  • A half of the residents were interested in spiritual literature and recordings

A. Suni 8.10.2009

Results (strengths)

  • Nursing staff learned to understand individual spiritual needs and how to meet and talk about them

  • Open discussion about spiritual needs and habits brought older people and nurses closer to each other

  • Openness incereased the sense of community and mutual respect

  • Openness decreased anxiety, brought comfort and more attention was paid to spiritual needs

A. Suni 8.10.2009

Results (weaknesses)

  • The questionnaire was made for people in Lutheran Church, it has to be modified for other religions

  • Cultural and social needs, i.e., personal freedom to choose own life style must be respected

  • How to train nurses from other ethnic cultures to understand and use this tool to provide holistic care?

  • How to teach ethnic and native older people to respect each other and their religions?

A. Suni 8.10.2009


  • It is important to be a good listener, to respect and meet older people at their level without imposing one´s own values on them

  • It is important to facilitate the creation of contemplative surroundings

  • In order to implement holistic care and to pay attention to older people´s spiritual needs, it is essential that the organization of the care system is supportive both for patients and personnel

  • 90 % of these older people prayed every day – prayer is a strong psycho-social source of power

    • Are spiritual needs adequately observed, e.g., in the prevention of suicides among older adults?

A. Suni 8.10.2009

My lessons from practice for policy makers

  • Unfortunately, policy makers don’t realize what goes on in mental health work and how people with mental health disorders wish their care should be developed

  • Authorities should participate more often in seminars and conferences with staff who could tell them how to develop and support mental health work

  • Policy makers should learn to respect service-users and understand that user-led policy is a key to better life

A. Suni 8.10.2009

Opportunities for the development of mental health promotion

  • More open discussion and information is needed about mental health problems, because anyone of us can face these problems sometime in life

  • More resources are needed in mental health work (funds, residences, doctors, therapists, nurses)

  • We must create and maintain supported work places for the mentally ill and disabled people

  • Young parents must be supported in parenting and taking responsibility of the family

A. Suni 8.10.2009

The three main missing elements of policy at present – my opinion

  • Lack of knowledge, attitudes to diversity

  • Lack of will to improve things; for example, in Finland, responsibility for mental health issues is divided between many actors but nobody seems to take final responsibility

  • Skills and will to cooperation are insufficient (public sector, private sector, non-profit organisations and service users)

A. Suni 8.10.2009

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