Elderly at higher risk of death when spouse is hospitalized

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted March 6, 2006

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Those 65 and older who are married to someone who is admitted to the hospital are more likely to die within the next year than those who have a healthy spouse, but this varies by gender and the reason for the hospitalization, according to a study in the Feb. 16 New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers analyzed the claims data of more than 500,000 seniors enrolled in Medicare in 1993 and followed them for nine years. Overall, a man's risk of dying if their spouse was severely ill was 22%. It was only 16% for women. Men had a 6% increased risk of death if their spouse had colon cancer; women's risk increased by 3%. Dementia in a spouse increased a woman's risk to 5%; a man's risk increased 9%.

The authors called for strategies to address issues that could come up for caregivers and that might cause this phenomenon.

"It seems clear that a person's illness or death can have health consequences for others in his or her social network," said Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, lead author and professor in the Dept. of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Our work suggests that interventions might decrease the mortality of caregivers."

Note: This item originally appeared at

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