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Rebecca Casarez, Ph.D., R.N.

assistant professor of integrative nursing care, School of Nursing

Study connects spirituality and management of chronic illness

The effects from a chronic illness can be burdensome to patients, depriving them of their independence and lessening their quality of life. A chronic illness may cause some patients to feel of depressed and hopeless, while they yearn for ways to cope with their illness.

Rebecca Casarez, Ph.D., R.N.

Rebecca Casarez, Ph.D., R.N.

Spirituality may be the answer for some patients with a chronic illness.

Rebecca Casarez, Ph.D., R.N., has worked for many years as a nurse, caring for those with a chronic illness.

“I believe that, for some people, spirituality may be a way to help them cope with the physical limitations of their disease,” she said.

Casarez and her colleague, Evangelina Villagomez, Ph.D., are working on a pilot project to develop a spiritually and culturally based diabetes self-management curriculum for African Americans with diabetes. By working with an advisory committee of African Americans in a local church, Casarez and Villagomez conduct group interviews with research participants.

Current statistics from the American Diabetes Association state that 3.7 million or 14.7 percent of all African Americans ages 20 years or older have diabetes, and African Americans are 1.6 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.

“I have found that, for many of the African Americans I have interviewed, spirituality does affect how they take care of their diabetes,” Casarez said. “Many have told me they have a relationship with God, which gives them strength to manage their illness.”

Performing spiritual practices – praying, reading Scriptures and listening to spiritual music – also contributes to better self-care for managing diabetes, according to Casarez.

“Some of the participants have told me that prayer gives them determination to follow their self-management practices, keeps them focused and helps stabilize their blood sugar levels,” Casarez explained. “For some, the Bible offers advice from specific Scriptures on how to take care of their health. Also, listening to Christian radio may be a distraction from unhealthy behaviors (such as eating too much), and church attendance may provide opportunities to hear teachings about taking care of the body.”

Once Casarez and Villagomez compile the data from their pilot project, the next step is to obtain funding to test the effectiveness of a diabetes self management program for African Americans that includes spirituality.

“We hope that after the participants receive this program that their blood glucose levels will improve,” Casarez said of her future project. “If their blood glucose levels are kept within normal limits over time, they are less likely to experience the long-term complications of diabetes (blindness, kidney failure, leg amputations and heart disease) and will live a longer life.”