Men at Greater Risk for the “Widowhood Effect”

Losing a spouse, especially after a long, closely-bonded relationship can increase the risk of dying within a year – especially for men who may be up to 70 percent more likely to die than similarly aged men who did not lose a spouse.  A recent large-scale study into the “Widowhood Effect” was able to explore the specific factors that influence this phenomenon, including lifestyle habits, over a six-year period.

According to a recent Time magazine article, older couples often share behaviours like diet and exercise habits that play a big role in health.  Losing a spouse at a younger age is more unusual and the deep grief can add stress that lingers for up to three years following the death while the increased risk of death is seen for one year in older age groups. 

Older men, in heterosexual marriages, tend to rely heavily on their spouses for their social needs and loneliness in older age can have a significant negative effect on health.  After help and support from friends and family dwindle in the weeks and months after the death of a spouse, older men may not eat as well, socialize, exercise, or visit their doctor as often.   Caring for a loved one during a long illness is often stressful and following a death, there may be a delayed onset of emotional and physical burnout or shock. 

In cultures with different outlooks on death, or with greater social support following the loss of a spouse, the outcomes on health and longevity may be different.  It is not yet known how the study findings would apply to close relationships between unmarried people or to non-heterosexual relationships. 

The study findings demonstrate that men are in need of more healthcare services and long-term support after a spousal loss, especially among frailer older adults who are more likely to have comorbidities (the presence of two or more medical conditions or diseases in a patient) and have difficulty with housekeeping.   Read more about the Widowhood Effect and find help for the recently widowed by following this link to VeryWellMind – Stress Management.