Science - February 19, 2004

Wives keep older men on the ball

When an elderly man loses his wife he is more likely to lose his ability to take care of himself. This is the conclusion of research carried out in a joint project between Wageningen University, the public health organisation RIVM and Finnish scientists.

Researchers studying the functioning of elderly people look at a number of factors including the ‘instrumental activities of daily living’. This is a collective term for complex skills that are needed, for instance, to do housework, answer the telephone, catch a bus or manage your financial affairs. Widowers find these activities twice as difficult as men who still have a partner. The decline seems to be worst during the first five years that the men are alone.

The researchers find their results worrying. The numbers of elderly people living alone are increasing, and therefore the numbers likely to need help from care organisations are also on the rise. The research has been published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Willem Koert

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