A sick husband or wife who needs to be admitted to hospital
increases the risk of death for their spouse, the latest findings
Researchers attribute this to 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 HealthCare
Policy. "We believe it works by imposing some kind of burden."
To unravel the connection, Christakis and co-researcher Paul D.
Allison, a statistician from the University of Pennsylvania,
examined records of more than a half million couples who were in
enrolled in Medicare from 1993 through 2001, and their findings
reveal the ripple effect of a spouse's hospitalization -- across
various illnesses -- on the partner's health.
They published their findings on the Feb. issue of the New
England Journal of Medicine.
"What this work shows is that illness in one person -- in a
spouse -- can affect the health, the mortality, of another person,"
Christakis said. "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."
Overall, Christakis' study found that a spouse's hospitalization
boosted the risk of a man's death by 22 percent compared with the
death of a spouse. A husband's hospitalization increased a woman's
death risk by 16 percent.
Some diseases posed more of a burden than others. For example, a
woman's hospitalization for stroke, congestive heart failure or hip
fracture raised her husband's death risk by 6 percent, 12 percent
and 15 percent, respectively.
Similarly, a man's hospitalization for colon cancer did not
significantly influence his wife's death risk, but other diseases
did have a major impact.
A spouse's hospitalization for dementia proved most stressful,
raising the risk of death 22 percent for men and 28 percent for
women, Christakis said. "In fact," he added, "we show that having a
demented spouse is as bad for you as having a dead spouse."
The study also identified certain time frames during which
caregivers are particularly vulnerable, including immediately after
a hospitalization and again three to six months into the
(Agencies via Xinhua News Agency February 13, 2008)