Many things can impact older adults' quality of life. But two big ones, according to new research from the University of Arizona, are the health and cognitive functioning of their spouse. By analyzing data from more than 8,000 married couples (with an average age in the early 60s), researchers found that the physical health and cognitive functioning of a person's spouse can significantly affect someone's own quality of life.
A press release quoted UA psychologist David Sbarra, a co-author of the paper, as saying, "When we think about quality of life for older adults, and improving quality of life, it seems like targeting the individual is only part of the story, and our findings suggest that for older adults, a larger part of individual well-being is defined by our partner's health and cognitive functioning as well." The paper will be published in Psychology and Aging, a journal of the American Psychological Association.
Sbarra urged "looking at both partners" when one partner develops serious health issues. The study underscores the need for caregiver relief and assistance. If a spouse is suffering from an illness or is unable to walk, their care frequently falls to the healthy spouse, who in turn must make their own lifestyle changes to accommodate their needs.
UA researchers considered survey respondents' self-reports of physical health and quality of life, as well as their scores on cognition tests measuring verbal fluency, word recall and delayed word recall, said the release.
Other studies have also bolstered the idea that caregivers' lives are deeply impacted by the illness of a loved one. Nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; about 40 percent suffer from depression. Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers had $9.7 billion in additional health care costs of their own in 2014, reports the Alzheimer's Association.
Caregiving is also costly. The total estimated aggregate of lost wages, pension, and Social Security
benefits of people who care for their elderly parents is nearly $3 trillion, according to the MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs.
All of which serves as an excellent reminder: Caregivers need to take care of themselves as well.