A new joint American-Israeli study has found that praying regularly can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent.
The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., found that women, who have a significantly larger chance of developing forms of dementia, may be able to prevent the disease through prayer.
“We found that people with higher levels of spiritual well-being had a significantly slower progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” Yakir Kaufman, the head of the neuropsychiatric department at Herzog hospital in Jerusalem told The Media Line.
The Israeli organization Melabev has ten centers serving about 600 Alzheimer’s patients for whom prayer is part of the daily routine. “If prayer is done in a center or a religious facility, it is communal and there is a social aspect,” said Susan Sachs, the director of public relations and development at Melabev. “It gives hope and perspective, and for many people it helps retain their dignity. They’re doing something that they did all their lives.”
Melabev provides an alternative to institutionalizing Alzheimer’s patients by providing a full day of activities. Sachs estimates there are 100,000 people suffering from the disease in Israel. The centers provide them with laminated cards with the most popular prayers printed in large type, although many of the patients rely on memory, which also helps strengthen their cognitive function. While prayer has some cognitive elements, it strengthens emotional functioning even more.
As the patients’ cognitive function declines, his or her emotional function may be strengthened, according to Leah Abramowitz, the head of the Institute for the Study of Aging at Melabev. She told The Media Line that, “It’s like a baby who can feel his mother’s emotions and will start crying if she is angry or tense. It’s like the person who is fully blind will have more acute hearing.”
According to the study, prayer, whether public or private, can also lower stress levels, which is one of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.