Seniors unhappy in marriage risk ill health

According to a new study an unhappy marriage takes it's toll on those within it especially as they age.

There has been a great deal of research supporting the idea that a happy union in many ways is a health benefit as people get older and a number of studies have suggested that an unhappy marriage can take a major health toll.

Some studies have found that there is a higher degree of heart disease among people who are unhappily married.

This latest study suggests that marital strain may be particularly damaging to older adults' health.

According to lead researcher Dr. Debra Umberson of the University of Texas-Austin, this is the first study which examines whether the health effects of marital problems differ depending on age.

Umberson a senior sociologist at the University says there are several reasons why older adults could be more vulnerable to marital woes.

Umberson compares the situation to smoking and chronic stress which can have a cumulative effect on health over the years.

Also says Umberson older adults have the added susceptibility to these effects due to age-related declines in immune function and a higher rate of health problems such as heart disease.

In the study Umberson and her colleagues used data from a survey of U.S. adults begun in 1986.

They focused on 1,049 men and women who were interviewed at three points over eight years and remained married throughout that time.

The participants were asked questions on marital quality, including whether their spouse made them feel "loved and cared for" and listened to their concerns, and whether they had frequent disagreements and conflicts.

They were also asked to rate their physical health on a range from "poor" to "excellent."

The researchers found that the men and women who reported more marital strain also reported a steeper decline in their health over time.

When the study participants were grouped into three age groups, age 30, 50 and 70 at the study's outset, only the oldest group showed negative health effects.

Similarly, only older adults showed health benefits from a happy marriage.

Umberson and her colleagues concluded that unhappily married individuals need to identify marital difficulties and try to improve marital quality because their health may depend on it.

Although professional counseling is one of the best options for resolving marital problems, Umberson recognises that older adults may be less open to marriage counseling, and they might be more comfortable speaking with someone they trust, such as a minister or pastor.

The study is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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