Why elderfly can die from a broken heart

Posted on September 24, 2014

Photo: flickr

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Birmingham (UB) in the UK, grief affects people over the age of 65 more severely, weakening their immune systems and making infection more likely. This may explain why some grieving elderly people literally die of a broken heart.

The research compares the connection between stress hormones and immune function in people of different ages.

The researchers found that two stress hormones, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), respond differently to grief with age. For younger people, the ratio of these two stress hormones was more balanced. For older people, however, the ratio was much higher.

Cortisol is known to suppress elements of the immune system during times of high stress, so having an unbalanced ratio of cortisol and DHEAS is going to affect how able we are to ward off illness and infection when grieving. In younger people the proportion of cortisol and DHEAS remained balanced after the death of a loved one, while in elderly individuals the levels of cortisol were relatively high compared to the low levels of DHEAS. DHEAS is known to counteract the harmful effects of cortisol in times of stress and protect the immune system. Its level declines with age.

Potential treatments for those at increased risk of stress are hormonal supplements and similar products, said the researchers.

Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions, Stress Management

Source material from Psych Central

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