You are viewing the content for Thursday 16 February 2006

Couples united ‘in sickness and in health’, shows study

By Lyndsay Moss
A HUSBAND or wife having to go into hospital significantly increases the risk of the other partner dying, researchers said today.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers in the US studied 518,240 couples, aged between 65 and 98, to gauge the effect of a life-partner’s hospitalisation or death on the remaining spouse.

They found that the illness or death of a partner could significantly harm the well-being of their husband or wife and play a major part in increasing their own chance of dying.

The researchers, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that the level of risk experienced by one partner depended on what illness the other spouse was suffering.

Nicholas Christakis, a professor from Harvard Medical School, said: "Our study shows that... the health of one person is related to the health of another."

During the nine-year study, which started in 1993, 383,480 husbands (74%) and 347,269 wives (67%) were in hospital at least once, while 252,557 husbands (49%) and 156,004 wives (30%) died.

The study found that certain illnesses were more harmful to partners than others.

The researchers said that the more a disease interfered with a spouse’s physical or mental ability, and the more burdensome it was, the worse it was for the health of the partner.

If a spouse was taken to hospital with dementia, the risk of death increased by 22% in male partners and 28% in female partners, while psychiatric disease increase the risk by 19% in men and 32% in women.

Hip and other serious fractures increased the risk of death in the partner by 15% in men and 11% in women, while heart failure admissions also increased the partner’s risk by 12% in men and 15% in women.

Hospital treatment for some illnesses appeared to have no effect on the partner’s own risk of death, such as colon cancer, lung cancer or leukaemia.