Spousal health linked in older couples

Aging couples affect each other’s quality of life

Photo: Imagesbazaar

New research implies that the quality of life of an ageing adult is affected by the health and cognitive functioning of their spouse. These findings can help with issues regarding quality of life with respect to older individuals’ physical, mental and social health.

Researchers from the University of Arizona reviewed data of over 8,000 married couples. The participant’s average age was said to be the early 60s. The researchers evaluated the participants’ self-reports of their quality of life and physical health, in addition to how they fared in cognition tests. The results implied that the physical health and cognitive functioning of an individual’s spouse can significantly impact a person’s own quality of life.

“When we think about quality of life for aging couples, and improving quality of life, it seems like targeting the individual is only part of the story, and our findings suggests that for older adults, a larger part of individual well-being is defined by our partner’s health and cognitive functioning as well,” said UA psychologist David Sbarra, a co-author of the paper, which will be published in Psychology and Aging, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

As people live longer with advances in medical science and technology, spending on health care will also increase and information like this is important in figuring out how to optimise the health and quality of life for ageing people.

“As we build public health interventions for our aging population when it comes to quality of life, we need to take a more dyadic approach, looking at both partners,” said Sbarra.

For the study, data was analysed from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, or SHARE study, of adults aged 50 and older. This data was made up of self reports by the participants on their physical health and quality of life, as well as their scores on cognition tests measuring verbal fluency, word recall and delayed word recall.

The results supported existing research on the interdependence of older married couples. It further revealed cognition and physical health as two crucial factors that influence spouses’ quality of life, with genders not affecting the balance.

Kyle Bourassa, a UA doctoral student in clinical psychology and the paper’s lead author, explained that a wife’s physical health impacts her husband’s quality of life as much as a husband’s physical health affects his wife’s quality of life.

“If you have people whose physical health is low – maybe they’re suffering from an illness or unable to walk – those kind of physical health issues not only impact the individual but the person they’re married to as well,” Bourassa said. “Their husband or wife is the one who may have to adjust and help with their partner’s new lifestyle.”

When it came to cognition, it was found that wives’ cognitive functioning had as much of an impact on husbands’ quality of life as husbands’ own cognitive abilities. However, wives’ quality of life was not as strongly affected by their husbands’ cognition, but there was a measurable impact, Bourassa said.

“The population of aging adults is going up drastically, and as we have more and more people who are living longer and longer it’s really important to understand successful aging. You could extend these findings to think about interventions targeting cognition and physical health to improve quality of life not only for the individual, but also for their partner,” said Bourassa.

As adults grow old, it is natural to experience alterations in physical health. They can also face cognitive decline, which can range from normal change in cognition to experiencing disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. As these transformations can vary vividly between different people, it is wise to look at both physical health and cognition as they relate to quality of life for both partners, Bourassa said. Additional research is needed to verify how changes in these two areas can affect quality of life over time, he said.

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