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What is the Widowhood Effect?

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The widowhood effect is an increase in a person's likelihood of passing away within a relatively short time after their long-term spouse has passed away.

The widowhood effect is a phenomenon where elderly persons who have lost a spouse have an increased risk of passing away themselves.

According to research, this risk is greatest in the first three months after a spouse’s passing.

In the first three months after their spouse’s death, persons who had just lost a spouse had a 66% higher chance of dying, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Public Health2. Earlier research had put the surviving spouse’s increased risk of death considerably higher, at up to 90%.

Who is affected the most?
Although earlier studies had suggested that men are more likely than women to pass away soon after marriage, the 2014 study discovered that both sexes have an identical chance. Additionally, it was discovered that the surviving spouse still had an increased mortality risk of 15% even after the first three months.

It makes sense to think that spouses who had a close marriage will have more depression after becoming widowed, and research has supported that assumption. Unexpectedly, surviving spouses who owned homes tended to be more unhappy, possibly because they were anxious about having to take care of the house.

According to studies, women who depended on their husbands for household duties and financial responsibilities tended to have more post-widow distress.

Depending on the circumstances, sudden, unexpected death may be more stressful for the remaining spouse1. The lack of planning frequently results in the surviving partner quickly losing both financial and emotional support.

The impacts
Nobody is aware of the reason for this elevated risk of mortality for the surviving spouse. A few theories have been put forth by researchers to explain the widowhood effect. These consist of:

Elevated mortality rates may be influenced by the common household traits of both partners.

One may become more susceptible to passing away under the strain of caring for a sick and dying partner.

Following the loss of a companion, people may alter their health habits, increasing their own mortality risk. As their partners’ health declines, surviving spouses neglect their own health and well-being.

After the death of a spouse, people also go through changes in their living situation, which could have an effect on mortality.

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Whatever the case, stress undoubtedly has an impact. Grief can have both physical and emotional impacts. Some of the signs of grief include:

Anxiety

Changes in sleep patterns

Digestive problems

Lack of energy

Illness and decreased immunity

Pain and discomfort

Weight gain or loss

Other studies have examined the bereaved spouse’s cause of death to determine whether people with particular illnesses are more likely to pass away. It requires complex analysis.

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According to a 2008 study, widowed men are far more likely to pass away in the months that follow the passing of their wives from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, an accident, a major fracture, an infection, or sepsis.

The same study also discovered that widowed women are substantially more likely to pass away from lung cancer, COPD, colon cancer, accidents, or serious fractures in the months after their spouse’s passing.

Assistance for Newly Widowed
Even though the death of a spouse can be traumatic, many elderly people recover more swiftly than one might expect. Within around 18 months of their spouse’s passing, studies have shown that individuals typically achieve their prior levels of health (both bodily and psychological health).

Consider taking actions that promote healing if you are dealing with the loss of a relationship. It might be beneficial to:

Find support.
The widowhood effect can be mitigated by social assistance. Reach out to your family and friends for support if you’re hurting after your spouse recently passed away.

Find activities to keep you busy.
Many of your routines can change when you lose your partner, and it can create a void in your life. It can be beneficial to find activities to keep active and pass the time. You may try things like taking up a hobby, hanging out with friends and doing community service.

Follow your personal pace.
Don’t put any pressure on yourself to “move on” in a certain amount of time because everyone deals with grief and loss in various ways.

Speak to an expert.
You can better integrate the loss into your life and move on in a way that will help you adjust to the changes in your life by talking about your feelings and experiences with a mental health expert.

There are various ways to support a loved one who has suffered a loss if you are worried about them. Offering practical aid, such as cooking meals, running errands, and taking care of domestic duties, can be quite beneficial in the immediate aftermath of a loss.

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