A Swedish study has found an association between grief over the death of a spouse and an increased risk for hip fractures in the widow or widower. The first six months after bereavement saw the highest risk for a hip fracture. The study was published December 12, 2019 in Osteoporosis International.
Grief over Death of Spouse Linked to Increased Risk for Physical and Mental Health Problems
Grief over the death of a husband or wife has been linked to an increased risk for physical and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, sickness, sleep disturbances, an increased use of psychotropic medicines, increased need for psychiatric care, increased risk for cardiovascular events like strokes and heart attacks, increased risk for cancer and an increased risk of death. Research has also shown that medicines used to treat depression like serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are associated with a 70% increase in falls and fractures. Stressful life events are also associated with a loss of bone mass in the hip, falls and fractures.
From 1987 to 2002 the researchers followed all Swedish married people ages 60-100 years (born from 1902 to 1942). Participants were 891,181 women and 891,854 men. In the follow-up period, 299,067 (17%) women became widows and 128,344 (7.2%) men became widowers.
From 1987 to 2002 there were 21,305 hip fractures among widows and 6538 hip fractures among widowers. These were at a higher rate than the control people who were still married. The highest risk for a hip fracture was during the first six months after the death of their spouse. There was a 62% higher risk for a hip fracture for a widow and an 84% higher risk for a hip fracture for widowers compared to people who were still married. Also, the risk for hip fractures was most significant for younger men who were widowers. Six months after the death of their spouse the risk for a hip fracture began to decrease but still was higher than the control group of people who were still married.
Bereavement is a Major Stressful Life Experience
The researchers conclude that bereavement is a major stressful life experience and poses a higher risk for a hip fracture. They also ask if this might be called bereavement frailty?
Managing Grief During the Holidays
See our blog post from December 24, 2018, about managing grief during the holidays. The holiday season that stretches from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Hanukah and the New Year can bring back memories of grief and sadness, especially over a departed spouse.
Short-term Rehabilitation at the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York
If your loved one has experienced a fall and is in need of short-term rehabilitation, the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers expert rehabilitation and care. Their interdisciplinary team provides an individualized approach so that your loved one will be able to go at their own pace. Van Duyn also has wonderful recreational activities such as a gardening club, ceramics club and pet therapy. To read more about recreational therapy at Van Duyn see our blog post from July 11, 2018.
People experiencing grief from the death of a beloved spouse should be protected as much as possible from unintentional falls that can lead to hip fractures and disability.