Some time ago researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania Department of Medicine examined death rates of surviving spouses of 195,553 elderly American couples. The premise was that the 30,838 people who used hospice had “good deaths” that were less stressful for their spouses and would result in living longer.
The results of the matched retrospective cohort study suggest that the supportive end-of-life care provided by hospice has a beneficial impact on spouses. “Hospice may attenuate the ordinarily increased mortality associated with becoming widowed,” concluded authors Nicholas Christakis and Theodore Iwashyna. The results were statistically significant in both men and women.
After adjusting for variables, 5.4% of bereaved women died by 18 months after the death of their husbands when hospice was not used compared with 4.9% when hospice had been used. Of the surviving husbands, 13.7% died within 18 months when their wives had not had hospice care compared with 13.2% when their wives died with hospice.
The support of hospice care appears to not only improve quality of life for patients, but reduces the stress on survivors to the extent that they live longer.
For more information see Social Science & Medicine, 2003, vol. 57, issue 3, pages 465-475.
This article was originally published in Pathways Physician & Health Professional Bulletin - Issue 25. To download this issue in PDF format, or past issues, visit our newsletter archives online at www.pathwayshealth.org/publications.