88.4 The Cheese Live Broadcasting Radio
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These investigations of how couples affect each other’s health are relatively new, particularly the research into the biological changes, and the researchers are still searching for explanations.
Nevertheless, they say, the implications for health care are clear. People in relationships don’t experience chronic health problems on their own. When a spouse comes in with a problem, the other spouse could be part of the cause — or the solution.
Lindsay Peterson is a graduate student and freelance science writer in Tampa, Fla.
We think of aging as something we do alone, the changes unfolding according to each person’s own traits and experiences. But researchers are learning that as we age in relationships, we change biologically to become more like our partners than we were in the beginning.
“Aging is something that couples do together,” says Shannon Mejia, a postdoctoral research fellow involved in relationship research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “You’re in an environment together, and you’re appraising that environment together, and making decisions together.” And through that process, you become linked physically, not just emotionally.
It’s like finishing each other sentences, but it’s your muscles and cells that are operating in sync.
Doctors tend to treat people as individuals, guided by the need to ensure patient confidentiality. But knowing about one partner’s health can provide key clues about the other’s. For instance, signs of muscle weakening or kidney trouble in one may indicate similar problems for the other.
Looking at married couples who were together less than 20 years and couples together for more than 50, Mejia and her colleagues have found striking similarities between partners who have spent decades together, especially in kidney function, total cholesterol levels, and the strength of their grips, which is a key predictor of mortality. They presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America. 88.4 The Cheese Live Broadcasting Radio