SATURDAY, Nov. 7, 2020 — In older couples, one spouse’s negative thoughts about aging can affect the other spouse’s health, a new study indicates.
It also found that these effects differ by gender. A wife’s views about aging are linked with her husband’s physical health, while a husband’s view about aging are associated with his wife’s mental health.
The findings suggest that having a negative view about aging can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, according to study co-author Lydia Li, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan.
The researchers analyzed data from nearly 6,000 Americans older than 50 and their spouses.
They found that women with less negative views of aging are more likely to look after their own health and to encourage their husband to seek health care and follow medical advice.
But women with more negative views of aging are less likely to look after their own health or that of their spouse.
The researchers also found that a husband’s negative views about aging can affect his wife’s depressive symptoms, but not her physical health, according to the study published recently in the Journal of Aging and Health.
“The fact that the husband’s self-perception about aging is not associated with their wife’s physical health further supports that it is usually women doing the health care work within the couple’s context,” said study lead author Meng Sha Luo, an associate professor of sociology at Zhejiang University in China.
The gender differences identified in the study suggest that health care officials need to pay attention to the influence of spouses when creating programs to improve older adults’ health.
For example, when husbands have major health challenges, improving their own as well as their wife’s views about aging may be helpful, Li suggested.
And when wives have depressive symptoms, they may benefit from efforts to improve their own and their husband’s negative views about aging.
Previous research has shown that many adult men are reluctant to acknowledge their health problems or seek help, perhaps because doing so threatens their sense of masculinity.
“For these men, efforts to engage their wives may be a feasible approach and are beneficial to both the husbands and wives,” Luo said in a University of Michigan news release.
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