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Harvard Study Reports Losing a Spouse Can Increase Risk of Death

Update Date: Nov 16, 2013 11:12 AM EST
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Are we facing another mass extinction event?

Several studies in the past have examined the effects that being in a relationship have on health. Some of these studies have reported that married cancer patients have an increased survival rate than single cancer patients. In a new study conducted by Harvard University, researchers found that losing a spouse could increase one's risk of dying by as much as 66 percent within three months after the partner passed away.

The researchers had analyzed over 26,000 Americans who were older than 50-years-old. From this sample set, the team focused on 12,316 of them who were married in 1998. The participants were followed until 2008. During this time span, 2,912 of them died. 2,373 of them were married and had left a partner behind. The other 539 people who died were widows or widowers.

The researchers found that widows and widowers had an increased chance of death when compared to people who still had their partners. The researchers calculated that mortality risk was increased by 66 percent. Of the 539 people, 50 of them had died within three months of losing their partner. 26 died between three and six months and another 44 died within six to 12 months after their partner died. The researchers also found that men had a greater risk of dying than women after losing their spouse.

"It's possible it's a grief-related mechanism, or that providing care for the sick spouse causes illness in the surviving spouse," lead researcher Dr. S. V. Subramanian said according to Daily Mail. "Or, as one's spouse gets sicker, the surviving spouse stops taking care of their own health."

Dr. Ken Doka, who is a gerontologist at the College of New Rochelle in New York, added, "Maybe they used to go for a walk every night but now they're not doing that anymore. Maybe they're not sleeping well, or maybe not taking their medications. Also, grief is extraordinarily stressful and when you're older and frailer it's harder to cope with stress."

The study could not conclude the effects of losing a spouse for younger married couples.

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