Spouse's Hospitalization Increases Partner's Risk of Death, Study Shows
A new study funded by the National Institute on Aging shows that the hospitalization of a partner for a serious illness also increases the spouse's risk of death.
Schmalfeldt: We've all heard stories of an older person who "dies of a broken heart" shortly after a partner's death. But a new study funded by the National Institute on Aging shows that the hospitalization of a partner for a serious illness also increases the spouse's risk of death. One of the lead authors of the study, Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard Medical School, said the findings were quite striking.
Christakis: We found that the more disabling a disease is, the greater the mortality risk in a partner — quite apart from whether the sick spouse actually dies. So there are two different things that can be going on in your spouse. Your spouse can be disabled and/or your spouse could have a fatal condition and those two have separable effects on partners
Schmalfeldt: Dr. Christakis and his colleagues studied more than a half million couples over the age of 65 where were enrolled in Medicare from 1993 through 2001. He talked about some of the policy and public health implications of the study.
Christakis: Our work could be used to target supportive interventions to spouses and their partners when the spouse falls ill. So for example we show that certain diseases like dementia, psychiatric disease, lung disease, hip fracture, congestive heart failure, all of those are diseases that when the spouse has it, the partner's at increased risk of death. In fact, we've found that the partners of spouses having those diseases can in some cases be worse than if the spouse actually died. We also found that there's an increased risk over the immediate thirty day period after the onset of these serious diseases. So these observations could be used to target supportive intervention.
Schmalfeldt: Doctor Christakis said the study showed that the more a disease resulting in hospitalization interferes with a patient's physical or mental ability, regardless of the extent to which it might be deadly, the more of an impact it may have for the spouse of the ill person. Such illness might also deprive the partner of emotional, economic or other practical support or might impose stress on the caregiver which may contribute to the risk of death. You can read more about the study at www.nia.nih.gov. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis
Topic: Health Care