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Spouses affect each other's health dramatically, study finds

May 05, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • When one spouse becomes depressed due to illness, the other often becomes depressed, too.
When one spouse becomes depressed due to illness, the other often becomes… (Oliver Weiken / EPA )

Spouses tend to share various symptoms and physical limitations and are influenced by each other's health problems, according to a new study.
Researchers studied emotional and physical medical histories of more than 1,700 older couples over a 15-year period. The participants were age 76 to 90 and most had been married for several decades. The study showed that functional limitations in one spouse -- not being able to walk up stairs, for example -- could trigger depression in both spouses.
One spouse's symptoms of depression often waxed and waned closely with the other spouse's, the study showed.
"This study shows how important marital relationships can be in determining old age health," said the lead author of the study, Christiane Hoppmann, of the University of British Columbia, in a news release.
"When people are depressed, they tend to want to stay at home -- but that causes a spouse to stay home more, too," she said. "That's a problem, because when older adults stop being active -- going for walks, socializing, shopping -- they risk losing that functional ability."
The study appears in the current issue of the journal Health Psychology.
Related: Grappling with the emotional toll of caring for a spouse in failing health
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