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Mourning Death of Loved One Raises Your Risk of Dying
Date:12/7/2007

o the difficulty of losing a spouse, especially during the first year.

"You may frequently see spouses engaging in leisure activities that they previously engaged in such as horseback riding or car racing or skiing that they might do now in a more dangerous way," said Rhoda Goldstein, a bereavement care coordinator for the Lippincott Family Hospice at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "I frequently hear spouses say immediately after a death, 'My life has no meaning any more.' Many people have passive suicidal ideation, not that they intend to do anything deliberate to act on it, but they wish they wouldn't wake up in the morning."

According to Goldstein, some spouses may drink more heavily or use more prescription medications. And some spouses may have neglected their own health while taking care of an ailing husband or wife, leading to their own death.

The authors of the Lancet paper went through the available literature on grief and bereavement, focusing on papers published after 1997. Here are their main points:

  • Most of the studies report gender differences in death rates after bereavement, with widowers (men) having a higher risk of dying after a loss than widows (women).
  • The risk of dying appears to be higher for younger people who have lost a spouse than for their older counterparts.
  • The risk of dying for widowed people is highest in the early months after the loss.
  • The risk of death from suicide is also greater, with one study finding a 66-fold increased risk in the first week of bereavement for widowers and 9.6-fold for widows.
  • Widows and widowers are more likely to have physical health problems, especially soon after the loss. Complaints include headaches, dizziness, indigestion and chest pain, and they result in higher rates of disability, drug use and hospitalizations.
  • Research is starting to reveal biological links between bere
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