Death takes a toll on the living, and in the case of baby boomers, the loss of a family member increases their likelihood of ending up in the hospital, according to new research from the University of Georgia.
Led by Dr. Toni P. Miles, professor of epidemiology and director of the Institute of Gerontology in the College of Public Health, the research looked at how survivors responded to spouse, parent, sibling or child loss.
A report of any loss resulted in a 20 to 30 percent increased risk of health care use, she said. The risk for baby boomers six or more years past the loss was even greater. Compared to respondents without spousal or parental death, these grievers had a 75 to 95 percent increased risk of health care use.
“From these findings, we know a family member’s death can impact personal health,” Dr. Miles said. “We have to acknowledge that this is an issue. The public health community needs to better help people with bereavement.”
The research was published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and is part of a larger Mortality Project being conducted by the university. Through the Mortality Project, UGA researchers study how loss affects a survivor’s health. Along with research on loss and health care use, the Mortality Project has helped pastors improve their practices for grieving families with training available from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, http://www.acpe.edu.
“Grief is driving more Americans to health care each year,” Dr. Miles said. “The Mortality Project focuses on how to care for the grief stricken and how to reduce the risk of health care use. With this work, we are starting a conversation on the survivors of loss.”