The Effect of Religion and Spirituality on Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review
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PURPOSE OF THE STUDY: The maintenance of cognitive health is an important component of healthy aging. Abnormal cognitive decline can signal the onset of dementing disorders such as Alzheimer's disease (AD). Normal cognitive decline can also adversely affect the health of aging populations. We investigated the association between religious/spiritual involvement (R/SI) and cognitive function in adults of any age and any setting. We also examined whether social engagement acts as a mediator or moderator of the effect of R/SI on cognitive function, and whether the association between R/SI and cognitive function differs according to how each of these constructs is measured. DESIGN AND METHODS: We conducted a systematic review of articles published between 1990 and September 2016 by searching OVID MEDLINE, PSYCHINFO, EMBASE, and Google Advanced Search. We included studies with a comparison group (cohort, case-control, cross-sectional) that reported on R/SI (exposure) and cognitive function (outcome). RESULTS: Of the 6,300 citations obtained in the literature search, 17 met our eligibility criteria and were included in the review. Most of the included studies (82%) reported positive associations between R/SI and cognitive function. R/SI appears to be protective against cognitive decline in middle- and old-age adults. IMPLICATIONS: Public health practitioners should not overlook the benefits of enabling religious/spiritual practices among religious adults (i.e., offering ride programs could help isolated elders attend religious gatherings).
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