A study of older married couples that gives new meaning to the matrimonial adage "for better or worse" finds that spouses have a much greater impact on their partner's health than previously known.
The study, published in the current issue of the American Psychological Association's journal Health Psychology, finds strong associations between the physical and emotional health of older married couples and provides important new information on the psychological toll of physical limitations in old age.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia and Pennsylvania State University tracked the emotional and physical histories of more than 1,700 older couples over a 15-year period, using data from a major U.S. survey. Participants ranged in age from 76 to 90 and many had been married for more than 40 years.
In individuals and couples, the researchers found a strong relationship between "depressive symptoms" (unhappiness, loneliness and restlessness) and "functional limitations" the physical inability to perform such basic tasks as climbing stairs, picking up objects, cooking and shopping. While previous studies have linked physical and emotional health in individuals, this is the first study to show the phenomenon in couples.
"This study shows how important marital relationships can be in determining old age health," says lead author Prof. Christiane Hoppmann of UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "In addition, we show that many of the associations between functional limitations and depressive symptoms that have previously been found in individuals are in fact related to spouses."
The researchers found that spouses' depressive symptoms waxed and waned closely with those of their partners. Functional limitations in one spouse was not only associated with their own depressive symptoms but also with depressive symptoms in the other spouse. Increases in depressive symptoms in one spouse were also associated with greater
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University of British Columbia