DOI: 10.1101/19009878Oct 29, 2019Paper

Short-term mental health sequelae of bereavement predict long-term physical health decline in older adults: US Health and Retirement Study Analysis

MedRxiv : the Preprint Server for Health Sciences
Benjamin W DomingueD. W. Belsky


Objective. Death of a spouse is a common late-life event with mental- and physical-health sequelae. Whereas mental-health sequelae of spousal death tend to be transient, physical-health sequelae may persist, leading to disability and mortality. Growing evidence linking poor mental health to aging-related disease suggests the hypothesis that transient poor mental health following death of a spouse could be a harbinger of physical health decline. If so, identification of bereavement-related mental health symptoms could provide an opportunity for prevention. Methods. We analyzed data from N=35,103 individuals followed from 1994-2014 in the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and identified N=4,629 who were widowed during follow-up. We tested change in mental and physical health from pre-bereavement through the 5-year period following spousal death. Results. Bereaved spouses experienced an immediate increase in depressive symptoms following their spouses' deaths but the depressive shock attenuated within one year. Bereaved spouses also experienced increases in disability, chronic-disease morbidity, and hospitalization, which grew in magnitude with time since spousal death, especially among older HRS participants. Bereaved spouses ...Continue Reading

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