In a finding that gives new meaning to the phrase “in sickness and in health,” a University of Missouri researcher has found happily married couples are more likely to rate themselves healthy and that ailing seniors could greatly benefit from improving their marriages.
Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, examined the long-term relationship between health and marital quality. She found that, in all stages of marriage, the quality of the relationships can affect the quality of the individuals' health.
She said the findings suggest spouses need to be aware that how they treat one other and how happy they are in their marriages can affect their health.
"We often think about the aging process as something we can treat medically with a pill or more exercise, but working on your marriage also might benefit your health as you age," Proulx said. "Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people's spirits and well-being and lower their stress."
Proulx based her conclusions on an analysis of the medical records of 707 married adults who participated in a 20-year, nationwide research project that started in 1980 with funding from the Social Security Administration's Office of Research and Statistics and the National Institute on Aging.
She said the findings of the study, to be published in the Journal of Family Psychology, indicate healthcare professionals need to consider the nature of their older patients’ personal relationships when evaluating their health and planning treatment.
"Physicians should recognize that the strength of patients' marriages might affect their health,” she said.
“I suspect we'd have higher rates of adherence to treatment plans for chronic illnesses if medical professionals placed more of an emphasis on incorporating families and spouses in patients' care. If spouses understand their partners' disease and how to treat it at home, and the couple has a strong marriage, both people's health could improve."
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