Spouses and Health

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A study of older married couples gives new meaning to the adage “for better or for worse.” It finds that spouses have a much greater impact on their partner’s health than previously known.

The study out of the University of British Columbia found strong associations between the physical and emotional health of older married couples – and provides new information on the psychological toll of physical limitations in old age.

Researchers tracked the emotional and physical histories of more than 1,700 older couples over a 15-year period. Participants ranged in age from 76 to 90 and many had been married for more than 40 years.

The researchers found a strong relationship between “depressive symptoms” unhappiness, loneliness and restlessness and – 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 to show the phenomenon in couples.

The researchers say this shows how important marital relationships can be in determining old age health.

For example, when people are depressed, they tend to stay at home — and that causes a spouse to stay home more, too. And when older adults stop being active — going for walks, socializing, shopping — they risk losing that functional ability.

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