Have you ever heard of older couples where one spouse dies and then other one who was relatively healthy dies very shortly after? The story sounds familiar and now there is scientific evidence behind it which proves that the recent loss of a loved one may leave the living spouse more vulnerable to infectious diseases. These results were seen especially among the elderly.
The Atlantic shared the study, originally published in the Journal Ageing and Immunity, which studied four groups: one group of mourners on their 30’s, one group of mourners on their 70’s, and two groups within the same age bracket who had not experienced recent loss. The study found that members of the older group who have experienced loss had reduced function in their neutrophils – a white blood cell that fights infections. However, the change was not seen in the younger group of mourners. This might be due to age-related hormone fluctuations. This discovery leads to a promising hypothesis that among the elderly who are left grieving, hormone therapy could be used to decrease the risk of stress.
Although this study solves “the mystery” of older couples where one dies shortly after their spouse passes, mourning can act in other ways too. Following the death of a spouse, people were more likely to self-medicate, have worse overall health, suffer from aggravated physical pain, experience as increase in blood pressure along with blood clots, and loss of appetite. Dealing with grief is the first step to cure these symptoms and get back to a healthier self.