Academic journal article Family Relations

Long-Term Effects of Child Death on Parents' Health-Related Quality of Life: A Dyadic Analysis

Academic journal article Family Relations

Long-Term Effects of Child Death on Parents' Health-Related Quality of Life: A Dyadic Analysis

Article excerpt

This study examines the long-term effects of child death on bereaved parents' health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we compared 233 bereaved couples and 229 comparison couples (mean age = 65.11 years) and examined the life course effects of child death on parents' HRQoL. Variations in bereavement effects were examined by gender and for different causes of death. Bereaved parents had significantly worse HRQoL than comparison group parents, and there was no evidence of gender differences for this effect. With respect to the cause of a child's death, bereaved parents whose child died in violent circumstances had particularly low levels of HRQoL. Multilevel models indicated that marital closeness mitigated the negative effects of bereavement.

Key Words: couple data, death, health, marital closeness, multilevel models.

The death of a child disrupts parents' health and well-being both during the acute phase of bereavement and for extended periods over the course of their lives. Studies have found that, compared to other parents, bereaved parents experience more emotional distress (Dyregrov, Nordanger, & Dyregrov, 2003; Lohan & Murphy, 2005 - 2006; Wijngaards-de Meij et al., 2005), more hostility (Moriarty, Carroll, & Cotroneo, 1996), more frequent psychiatric hospitalizations (Li, Laursen, Precht, Olsen, & Mortensen, 2005), a higher rate of certain types of cancers (Levav et al., 2000), and higher mortality (Li, Precht, Mortenson, & Olsen, 2003) than nonbereaved parents. Some studies have found that bereavement also causes considerable stress on the parents' marital relationship and has been associated with high rates of divorce (Lehman, Wormian, & Williams, 1987; Najman et al., 1993). Other evidence, however, suggests that marital disruption might be no more likely for these couples than for other parents (Murphy, Johnson, Wu, Fan, & Lohan, 2003; Oliver, 1999). Also, some parents have reported that experiencing grief together as a couple strengthened their marital bond (Schwab, 1998).

To date, there has been relatively little research on parental bereavement that specifically examines the role of marital quality in recovery from grief. Furthermore, most research that has examined marital quality focuses on the occurrence of divorce, examines impacts over a relatively short period of time, and neglects the potential role of marital support in coping with bereavement. The purpose of the present investigation was to examine the long-term adaptation of couples who experienced the death of a child and to examine marital quality as a source of support in coping with bereavement.

This investigation builds upon an earlier report (Rogers, Floyd, Seltzer, Greenberg, & Hong, 2008) in which we investigated the long-term outcomes of parental bereavement for men and women who participated in the third wave (1992/1994) of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS; Hauser & Roan, 2006). The investigation was unusual in examining bereavement in an unselected sample of fathers and mothers who participated in a population-based study of adult development from high school to old age. Thus, the self-selection bias that occurs in many bereavement studies that recruit participants from clinical settings was avoided. The Rogers et al. investigation also evaluated longterm outcomes by examining functioning when the parents were in their early 50s, an average of 18 years after the child's death. The findings uncovered evidence of "lasting grief for these parents who, in midlife, were more likely to have experienced a depressive episode, had lower levels of psychological well-being, more health problems, and a greater likelihood of divorce than a control group who were matched for background characteristics. Marital quality was, however, not measured at the 1992/1994 wave of the WLS, and data were obtained only from one member of each married couple. …

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