Background Recent findings suggest that bereavement due to spousal loss is associated with a decline in general immune functions, and thus to increased susceptibility to infections among widowed individuals. The present study aims to investigate whether spousal loss weakens immune defences more among men than among women using a 5% random sample of the total Danish population, and anti-infective medication use as a proxy for immune response.
Methods We followed 6076 Danish individuals (67% women) aged ≥50 from 5 years before and up to 5 years after widowhood to examine changes in prescriptions of anti-infectives for systemic use.
Results Women used more anti-infective drugs both before and after spousal loss (women: OR= 1.31; 95% CI 1.21 to 1.42). The age-related changes in the use of anti-infective medications in the period before widowhood were similar to that in the period after widowhood among both men and women. Also, age-related changes in the use of anti-infective medications were similar in both genders.
Conclusions The present study shows that individuals are more likely to use anti-infective medication after being widowed than before being widowed, but this change is likely to be related to increasing age and it is similar in both genders.
- gender differences
- immune response
- age and cohort effects
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Contributors AO and KC conceived the study. AS, AO, JWW and KC designed the study. AS analysed the data. AH provided support to run the programme code. AS and AO drafted the report. All authors critically revised the report and approved the final version of the report.
Funding KC received support from the US National Institutes of Health (P01AG031719, 2P01AG031719) and the VELUX Foundation. AO received support from the Max Planck Society within the framework of the project, ’On the edge of societies: New vulnerable populations, emerging challenges for social policies and future demands for social innovation. The experience of the Baltic Sea States (2016-2021)'. The funders had no role in the design of the study; or in the collection, analysis or interpretation of the data or the results.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent No patients were involved in the study, but only secondary data analysis of existing register data approved by the Danish Data Protection Agency.
Ethics approval The study involves secondary data analysis of existing register data approved by the Danish Data Protection Agency.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.