Older Couples and Quality of Life


Older adults’ quality of life is linked with the health and cognitive functioning of their spouse, according to new research.

The conclusion came from University of Arizona researchers who looked at data from more than 8,000 married couples, with an average age in the early 60s.

The investigators said that the findings have implications for how to most effectively address quality-of-life issues in people’s later years.

“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 UA psychologist David Sbarra, a co-author of the paper, which was published in Psychology and Aging, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

The population of Americans age 65 years or older is expected to double during the next 25 years to about 72 million, as baby boomers age and people live longer, according to a news release from the University of Arizona. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population and health-care spending will increase by 25 percent, largely because of the aging population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“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, an associate professor in the UA Department of Psychology with joint appointments in Family Studies and Human Development (link sends e-mail) and the Evelyn F McKnight Brain Institute.

The study was based on analysis of data from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, or SHARE study, of adults age 50 and older. The data was collected at three intervals over a six-year period, between 2004-2005 and 2010-2011.

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.

that influence spouses’ quality of life.

Kyle Bourassa, a UA doctoral student in clinical psychology and the paper’s lead author, said husbands’ and wives’ quality of life appears to be equally impacted by their spouse’s physical health, with no differences across gender lines. In other words, a wife’s physical health impacts her husband’s quality of life as much as a husband’s physical health affects his wife’s quality of life.

“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,” Bourassa said. “Their husband or wife is the one who may have to adjust and help with their partner’s new lifestyle.”


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