STUDY: Spouse Death Hurts Brain

Old ladyOld lady.Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB scanpix

A new study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reveals that when the elderly suffer the death of a spouse, such a loss seems to lead to a faster decline in the brain’s cognitive abilities.


Older adults who lose a spouse may be more vulnerable to cognitive decline in later years and may require extra support & monitoring, but study research indicates that those with family fair much better than those who don’t.

Giyeon Kim, co-author & psychology researcher at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea gave comment, saying; “We’ve all come to know the importance of cognitive functioning among older adults. We expected the cognitive functions to be adversely affected by being widowed or widower, but the protective effect of having a sibling alive and/or possessing high education fascinated us.”

The study examined almost 7,000 middle-aged and older U.S. men & women and indicates that cognitive functioning declined over time for everyone, but it degraded faster for the widowed; whether they subsequently remarried or not.

One theory is that the stress of widowhood contributes to cognitive decline.

Researchers analyzed data of 6,766 US adults over age 50, assessing widow/ widower status, cognitive functioning test scores & factors such as bereavement, education, remarriage, health status, race and number of living family members.

Cognitive test scores for widows/widowers were consistently more than half point lower than for elderly peers who weren’t widowed. Further, every additional year of widowhood decreased cognition scores by a quarter of a point. The decline was noticeable regardless of the subject’s remarriage status or health condition.

Sweden’s Umea University’s Anna Sundstrom commented upon the study results, saying that loneliness after widowhood may contribute to cognitive decline, noting that having living siblings, adult children or friends may provide social interactions required to delay mental decline.“Widowhood has a deep, negative impact on both mental and physical health. The growth of the aging population may bring an increasing number of lonely elderly citizens.”

Proactive lifestyle habits may have positive effect upon staving off elderly cognitive declines; with healthy eating, exercise, sleep, education & social activity seemingly protecting and slowing the brain from suffering higher mental function loss.

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