203703 Illness of grief

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rebecca L. Utz, PhD , Sociology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Michael Caserta, PhD , Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Dale Lund, PhD , Sociology, California State University San Bernadino, San Bernadino, CA
Widowhood is among the most distressing of all life events, resulting in both mental and physical health declines. This presentation will focus on the synergistic effects between physical health symptoms, health behaviors, and mental health outcomes such as grief and depression, among recently bereaved older adults (2 to 6 months post-loss). It will also explore whether and how this relationship dissipates over the course of bereavement (up to 16 months post-loss). Drawing on the experiences of 329 bereaved persons who participated in the “Living After Loss” (LAL) study, we first explored the physical health symptoms associated with grief. In the earliest stages of grief, nearly two-thirds expressed difficulty sleeping and half had trouble concentrating. Other physical health problems such as headaches, hair loss, muscle aches, and rapid heart beat were less common, with only about 10% of the recently bereaved reporting such symptoms. In terms of health behaviors, very few (less than 5%) mentioned problems with alcohol or substance use. Moderate exercise (3 to 4 days a week) was quite common among the recently bereaved. There is a strong and consistent correlation between reported health symptoms and measures of grief and depression; these relationships persist over the course of bereavement. The lagged effect of prior physical health predicting future mental health, and vice versa mental health predicting physical health, is less clear. Overall, the results suggest the complex nature of grief, implying that bereavement support be multidimensional and include a focus on self-care and health promotion.

Learning Objectives:
Describe an intervention study designed to counsel recently widowed older men and women. Compare the outcomes of the participants -- both in terms of physical and mental health. Discuss the synergistic effect of mental health on physical health and vice versa -- both crosssectionally and longitudinally

Keywords: Depression, Aging

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I received a PhD from the University of Michigan (1999-2004), where I first began research on widowhood and bereavement using the "Changing Lives of Older Couples" (CLOC) study. I continued my research interests on bereavement at the University of Utah, where I am a co-investigator and project director for the "Living After Loss" study. This is an NIA funded study (#R01 AG023090). I personally have analyzed all data presented in the abstract.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.