Date of Award:

2001

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Department name when degree awarded

Family and Human Development

Advisor/Chair:

Lori A. Roggman

Abstract

No study, to date, has systematically examined the interplay of social contact, depression, functional disability, and cardiovascular health when examining the relation between religious activity and all -cause mortality. This study used Cox regression models as well as a series of structural equation models to elucidate these relations and resultant mortality over a 5-year period. This sample included 3,607 persons, age 65 and older, who participated in the Cache County Study on Memory in Aging, and who were not demented. Results indicate that when using Cox regression modeling, after controlling for other variables related to mortality, both religious activity and social contact remained statistically significant predictors of survival time. Based on hazard ratios obtained from the Cox regression models, it was found that subjects who attend church activities at least once a week or more are 41.6% less likely to die than subjects who attend church less frequently. Subjects who increase their social contact by each additional level gain 3% protection against mortality. Surprisingly, depression was not related to mortality in any analyses. Therefore, the best-fitting structural equation model did not include depression. Possibly, the most interesting findings from this study were the mediating effects found between functional disability, religious activity, social contact, and all-cause mortality. Using a nested series of structural equation models, we found that social contact mediates the relation between functional disability and mortality and that religious activity mediates the relation between functional disability and social contact These results indicate that social contact may be a crucial underlying mechanism, which is triggered by religious activity, and therefore acts as a mediator between functional disability and mortality. Limitations of this study include narrow or unidimensional measures, as well as problems w1th reliability. Due to the homogeneity of this sample, it may be very difficult to justify generalizing these results to a different population. Despite these limitations, this study finds that both religious activity and social contact converge in their effects on mortality and their interconnectedness is evident from these results. Both religious activity and social contact have important implications for the health of our elderly. Nevertheless, many multilayered aspects of religious behavior and social networks have not been addressed in this study. Future work investigating the consequences of the longitudinal aspects of religious belief, social networking, and depression is needed.

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