Consequences of Conjugal Bereavement in Adults

National Institutes of Health (NIH) logo

National Institutes of Health (NIH)




Mental Disorder
Sleep Disorder
Immunologic Disease
Depressive Disorder

Study type


Funder types




Details and patient eligibility


Bereavement refers to the expected reactions and sadness associated with the loss of a loved one. It has been reported that the loss of a spouse is rated as the major life stressor among survivors of varying ages and diverse cultural backgrounds. Statistics have shown that in the United States over 800,000 men and women lose a spouse each year. A wide range of symptoms has been associated with bereavement including; depressed mood, tearfulness, sleep disturbances, and irrational behavior. Previous studies have shown that up to 50% of bereaved individuals can develop major depression. Bereavement has also been associated with dysfunction of the immune system. As a result, bereaved adults are more vulnerable to infection. However, the exact relationship between bereavement and immunity is uncertain. Researchers firmly believe that a relationship does exist between stress, more specifically bereavement, immunity, and the increased chance of dying following the loss of a long-term spouse. The objective of this study is to find possible links between bereavement, depression, and the immune system. This study will follow a group of elderly bereaved spouses and a group of elderly people who have not lost a long-term spouse. The group of bereaved individuals will be followed for approximately 13 months after the loss of their spouse and the group of controls will be followed for 13 months after entering the study. Researchers will make note of any clinical, biological, and immunological changes in any participants of the study.

Full description

It is estimated that over 800,000 men and women become bereaved each year in the United States (LaRue et al, 1985). While the near certainty of such bereavement is predictable in one spouse or the other, the exact impact and duration of bereavement is much less predictable (Stroebe et al, 1995). It has been reported that the loss of a spouse is rated as the major life stressor among survivors of varying ages and diverse cultural backgrounds (Holmes and Rahe, 1967). As one copes with the loss of a loved one, expected reactions include sadness, tearfulness, and even depression (DeLeon, 1994; Pasternak, 1996). Other complications can include work-related difficulties, sleep disturbances, irrational behaviors, and immunologic dysfunction (Zisook, 1994; Prigerson, et al, 1995). All of these symptoms are common; yet, the underlying biology and relationship with the time course of bereavement are still poorly understood. The purpose of this study will be to prospectively follow a cohort of elderly bereaved spouses and controls from multiple clinical and biological perspectives over thirteen months after the loss of a spouse.




Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

People over the age of 50 who have lost their spouse within the last three months.

Trial contacts and locations



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