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Why Do Some Elderly Couples Die Close To One Another?

Why Do Some Elderly Couples Die Close To One Another?

broken heart syndrome

When Trent Winstead was admitted to the ICU with failing kidneys, his wife – who didn’t have any known health issues – began complaining of a headache. Lying on a couch next to her ill husband, she passed on due to a hemorrhage. The couple had been together for 64 years. Trent could not bear the news of his wife’s passing, and just 19 hours after she died, he followed. He died of what’s called the Broken Heart Syndrome. The couple’s story, though rare, is not unique.

While there is profound love in stories of couples dying close to one another, there’s also some science behind the phenomenon. 

One’s passing can lead to a Broken Heart in the other

The death of a spouse is the most stressful life event. Other than the loneliness and grief it causes, the stress can sometimes take a toll on one’s body, leading to what’s called the ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ – a condition with symptoms that may feel like a heart attack, like chest pain, and shortness of breath, caused by an emotionally stressful event, not by clogged arteries. The longer a couple has been together, the higher the likelihood that one’s passing will lead to a Broken Heart in the other. Though it can be fatal, the majority of people do recover from it with appropriate treatment.  

A study at University of Glasgow of 4000 couples found that widows and widowers were at least 30 per cent more likely to die of any cause during the first six months following a spouse’s death, compared to those who did not lose a spouse. Another study, considered to be the most comprehensive on the subject, by scientists (Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard and Felix Elwert) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that within three months after one spouse dies, the chance that the other will follow is anywhere from 30 to 90 percent. Christakis and Elwert analyzed nine years’ worth of data collected from 373,189 elderly married couples in the US.

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But remember, this is a rare occurrence. Although yes, losing a spouse is one of the most stressful experiences of one’s life, we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for, and there are millions who continue to live fulfilling lives with fond memories of their beloved for years after their passing.

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