- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

DALLAS — People of faith have long contended that the power of prayer can help heal the sick. Now a study suggests that religious faith may help people recover from a stroke.

The study does not point to a “higher cause” but suggests that a strong dose of spirituality can reduce the emotional stress linked to obstacles in stroke recovery, according to a report yesterday in the journal Stroke.

Researchers at the San Raffaele Pisana Rehabilitation Center in Rome interviewed 132 stroke survivors about their religious beliefs and spirituality. The median age of the study participants was 72.

The responses were compared with their scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, a self-assessment tool.

“The analysis showed higher scores on the anxiety and depression scale correlated significantly with lower scores on the religious and spirituality questionnaire,” said the American Heart Association, which publishes Stroke.

“The association remained significant after adjusting for other factors that could influence a stroke patient’s degree of emotional distress [such as mental and physical functioning, living conditions and marital status],” it said.

The reasons for this potential link between faith and post-stroke emotional distress are hard to pin down, though the researchers gave tentative explanations.

“Religious people who are active in their communities are more likely to receive external aid that can be provided by volunteers,” said Dr. Salvatore Giaquinto, chairman of the department of rehabilitation at the San Raffaele Pisana Rehabilitation Center.

“Social support lets them experience feelings of care, love and esteem,” he said. “The new experience of support and the background of faith tell the patients that they are not alone.”

The research falls in line to some extent with other studies that have suggested that spiritual pursuits such as reciting the rosary and yoga chanting may be beneficial for heart rate variability and stress relief.

But some researchers say the potential links uncovered in the Rome study should not be mistaken for direct causality.

“The study does not establish that religious beliefs will definitely reduce emotional distress but shows that people who are religious have better coping abilities,” Dr. Lalit Kalra, a stroke professor at King’s College London School of Medicine in Britain, wrote in an accompanying commentary.

“Hence, both these variables may define personal attributes of the patient, in other words religious beliefs do not make a person cope better but identify patients who have better abilities to cope with chronic illness,” Dr. Kalra wrote.

The researchers did note that most of Rome’s residents are Catholic. But they said their findings might extend to other religions as well.

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