Does Losing a Spouse to Dementia Affect Mental Health Earlier Than Other Causes of Death? Antidepressant Use Surrounding Widowhood

Elina Einio , University of Helsinki
Niina Metsä-Simola, University of Helsinki
Saska Saarioja, University of Helsinki
Pekka Martikainen, University of Helsinki
Kaarina Korhonen

Widowhood is associated with an elevated risk of death. However, a previous study revealed that if a spouse dies from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, widowhood has no adverse effect on the surviving spouse’s risk of death. Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia may affect the surviving spouse’s health already before widowhood. We analyzed changes in the three-month prevalence of antidepressant use for three years before and three years after widowhood, depending on whether a spouse died of dementia or of other causes. The study employed register-based data of 41,855 widowed individuals and repeated-measures logistic regression analyses. The findings showed an excess prevalence of antidepressant use 3-27 months before widowhood among women whose spouses died of dementia, relative to women whose spouses died of other causes. The excess prevalence disappeared after widowhood. The findings suggest that changes in mental health occur before widowhood for those whose spouses die of dementia.

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 Presented in Session 4. Marriage, Family, Households, & Unions