Health Consequences for the Bereaved

Health Consequences for the Bereaved

Bereaved elderly spouses have a 30-90% mortality rate in the first three months following spousal death and a 15% mortality rate in the following months. Often called the “widowhood effect” this well researched phenomenon illustrates clearly that grief has a real and profound impact on one’s health. Whether the death is impending or entirely unexpected, the loss of a loved one has predictable adverse consequences on the health of those left behind. It can be especially traumatic for those who have lost a loved one in a car crash or a work accident. They will have to go to someone like the Bill Berenson Injury Law Firm to get compensation for their loss. This could keep reminding them of their lost relative.

Cardiac Consequences

Losing a loved one, particularly a partner or spouse, has been repeatedly shown to increase the risk of cardiac events in the surviving. The development of an irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation, is more likely in a surviving spouse than in those not grieving. Presence of an atrial fibrillation can lead to cardiac complications such as stroke, angina, and heart failure. Further, the release of large amounts of stress hormones following the death can induce Takotsubo’s cardiomyopathy, which looks and feels like a real heart attack and can, in rare cases, lead to sudden death. Research has also shown that surviving siblings of those who died of a heart attack have a greatly increased risk for dying of a heart attack themselves in the years following the death.

Immune Response

Neutrophils are white blood cells that play an important role in the body’s immune system. Research has shown that among older subjects, the loss of a loved one has a detrimental impact on the functioning of neutrophils. Whether this denigration of function is purely a result of the loss or as a result of increased cortisol in the system is yet to be determined. In any event, the result is the same. In older bereaved, immune system functionality is compromised during grief leaving the person more susceptible to infection, disease, and even death.

Mental Health Considerations

Loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, insomnia, feelings of isolation, inability to make decisions, and confusion are all common symptoms while grieving. If the bereaved does not have support from others during this difficult period they run the risk of falling into a clinical depression. Particularly if the death was sudden, tying up loose ends and dealing with unfinished business can promote anxiety, which impacts the person’s ability to manage daily life.

Coping Mechanisms

Oftentimes those who have lost a loved one turn to alcohol, smoking, drugs, and other unhealthy habits. Naturally these coping mechanisms bring about numerous health concerns. The loss of interest or ability to maintain adequate sleep and exercise exacerbate the problem.

The loss of a loved one represents the most difficult period of most people’s lives. Physical, emotional, and mental health decline only make it that much harder to endure. Proper support, self care, and time can work to improve outcomes.

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Dignified Death Still Elusive On Many Cancer Wards Interview with:
Karin Jors MA
Department of Palliative Care, Comprehensive Cancer Center,
University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Answer: The findings of our study shed light on the current circumstances for dying in cancer centers. Physicians and nurses in our study reported that they rarely have enough time to care for dying patients. In addition, only a minority of staff members felt that they had been well-prepared during their training to care for dying patients and their families. Overall, only 56% of participants indicated that it is usually possible for patients to die in dignity on their ward. This is likely the result of various factors such as: inadequate rooms for dying patients and their families (i.e. shared rooms), poor communication with patients regarding burdensome treatments, an overuse of life-prolonging measures, etc. Striking differences were found between the responses of palliative care staff and staff from other wards (e.g. general care, oncology, intensive care). For example, palliative care staff reported that they usually have enough time to care for dying patients. In addition, 95% of palliative care staff indicated that it is usually possible for patients to die in dignity on their ward. Overall, nurses perceived the situation for dying patients more negatively than physicians. Whereas 72% of physicians reported that patients can usually die a dignified death on their ward, only 52% of nurses shared this opinion. Although only slightly more than half of participants believed that patients can usually die in dignity on their ward, this is a considerable improvement to the situation 25 years ago. In a similar study published in 1989, researchers found that 72% of physicians and nurses experienced the situation for patients dying on their hospital ward as undignified.
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