African Americans, Spirituality & Chronic IllnessKelly Arora, PhD Feb 16, 2021
Palliative care can improve quality of life, alleviate troublesome symptoms, and ensure that health care is consistent with patient and family caregiver goals and preferences. Yet not everyone understands what palliative care is or seeks it out when it could help them. This is particularly true for older African Americans living with chronic health conditions, many of whom express embedded distrust of the healthcare system because of past injustices and ongoing disparities.
The majority of African Americans identify with a religious tradition (up to 87%, according to one study). Other research shows that African Americans generally view the church as a trusted source of information, social support, and health resources. Many churches serving African Americans in the Denver area have “health ministries” for their parishioners. As a result of these factors, local churches may help educate and encourage African Americans to access palliative care. To inform potential partnerships with churches, CU School of Medicine researchers sought to learn more about the ways African Americans rely on their spirituality to help them cope with chronic health conditions.
Older African American participants in five Denver focus groups affirmed the importance of spiritual beliefs, practices, and meaning making to help them cope with chronic illness. In addition, some participants sought out healthcare providers who explicitly demonstrated respect for the patient’s spirituality. This finding is particularly important because most participants in this study used a collaborative spiritual coping style, illustrated in comments like “God is a member of my healthcare team.” Studies show that collaborative spiritual coping is associated with positive health outcomes.
This study suggest that palliative care providers can help build trust with older African American patients by asking about and affirming the patients’ reliance on both personal spiritual resources and faith community involvement in their health care.
To learn more about these and other study findings: Siler, S., Arora, K., Doyon, K., & Fischer, S. M. (2021). Spirituality and the illness experience: Perspectives of African American older adults. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049909120988280