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Spouse's Sickness Bodes Ill for Partner's Health
Date:2/10/2008

Stress of hospitalization may pose deadly burden

SUNDAY, Feb. 10 (HealthDay News) -- It's called the "widow" or "widower" effect, and doctors have long been familiar with this curious but very real phenomenon: When a husband or wife dies, there's a greater likelihood that the surviving spouse will pass soon afterward.

Now, researchers are gaining a better understanding of the forces at work, realizing problems often start with the hospitalization of a spouse.

New findings suggest that having a husband or wife who needs to be admitted to a hospital with a serious illness poses health risks for the partner. The culprit: The stress and upheaval the partner experiences while enduring the hospitalization of an ailing husband or wife.

"It's not like your spouse's sickness somehow magically makes you worse," said Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School's Department of Health Care Policy. "We believe it works by imposing some kind of burden."

To unravel the connection, Christakis and co-researcher Paul D. Allison, a University of Pennsylvania statistician, examined records of more than a half million couples who were in enrolled in Medicare from 1993 through 2001. Their findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrate the ripple effect of a spouse's hospitalization -- across various illnesses -- on the partner's health.

"What this work shows is that illness in one person -- in a spouse -- can affect the health, the mortality, of another person," Christakis explained. "And this, in turn, means taking better care of someone who's sick not only benefits the sick person, but also benefits other people, such as their spouse."

In the United States, at least 44 million adults, including spouses, provide care for a loved one, the National Alliance for Caregiving estimates. Yet, few of these individuals are adequately
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