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Risk of death from grief may be low.

Risk of death from grief may be low

It is a common belief that bereavement due to the loss of a loved one increases the risk of mortality among spouses or parents of the deceased. But the evidence for this has been inconsistent, and recent studies on the health effects of bereavement suggest that any increase in mortality may be more limited than has been assumed. In the latest development, an Israeli study released this week shows that the loss of an adult son leads to no increased mortality in married parents.

In a study of more than 3,600 Israeli parents who lost adult sons either in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or through accidents occurring between 1971 and 1975, researchers found "no consistent evidence of an elevated risk of death" among surviving married parents by 1983. The study, led by Itzhak Levav of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem, compared the mortality rate of bereaved parents with that of the general populace.

"These findings raise questions about the effect of grief as a death-provoking factor," the researchers write in the Aug. 25 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE. "Marital status may make a difference, however, in the effects of parental bereavement on health," they add. Widowed and divorced parents of deceased sons -- especially mothers -- did show a slightly increased mortality. That finding suggests an additive effect of parental and conjugal bereavement, and is consistent with common wisdom that a spouse's emotional support has a protective role during parental bereavement, the researchers say.

Although Israel's culture is unusual for its provision of strong emotional support for parents of killed soldiers, the group's findings are strengthened by the data on parents of accident victims, says Malcolm P. Rogers of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "I don't think it's the final word." he says, "but it's still an impressive negative finding."
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Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 27, 1988
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