The physical and cognitive health of your aging spouse tends to have a significant effect on your own quality of life, according to new research at the University of Arizona (UA).
“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 suggests that for older adults, a larger part of individual well-being is defined by our partner’s health and cognitive functioning as well,” said study co-author Dr. David Sbarra, with joint appointments in Family Studies and Human Development and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute.
“As we build public health interventions for our aging population when it comes to quality of life, we need to take a more dyadic approach, looking at both partners,” said Sbarra.
The findings support prior research on the interdependence of older married couples, and they extend that research by identifying cognition and physical health as two specifically important factors that influence spouses’ quality of life.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 8,000 married couples, with an average age in the early 60s. The findings were based on analysis of data from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, or SHARE study, of adults age 50 and older.
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. They looked at health and cognition across a normal spectrum, rather than focusing on clinical cognitive disorders or chronic illnesses.
“If you have people whose physical health is low — maybe they’re suffering from an illness or unable to walk — those kind of physical health issues not only impact the individual but the person they’re married to as well,” said Kyle Bourassa, a UA doctoral student in clinical psychology and the paper’s lead author.
“Their husband or wife is the one who may have to adjust and help with their partner’s new lifestyle.”
Husbands’ and wives’ quality of life appears to be equally impacted by their spouse’s physical health, with no differences across gender lines.
With regard to cognition, wives’ cognitive functioning appears to have as much of an effect on husbands’ quality of life as husbands’ own cognitive abilities. Wives’ quality of life was not as strongly affected by their husbands’ cognition, but there was a measurable impact, Bourassa said.
“The population of aging adults is going up drastically, and as we have more and more people who are living longer and longer it’s really important to understand successful aging,” said Bourassa, whose co-authors on the paper included Sbarra and UA psychology doctoral students Molly Memel and Cindy Woolverton.
“You could extend these findings to think about interventions targeting cognition and physical health to improve quality of life not only for the individual, but also for their partner.”
The findings are published in the journal Psychology and Aging.
Source: University of Arizona