The elderly really can die of a broken heart because grief weakens their immune systems,The Telegraph reported.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK found grieving in the elderly causes stress hormones to become unbalanced, which can lead to a reduction in immune system cells.
The new study, published in the journal Immunity and Ageing, focused on 100 participants, half of whom were aged over 65, and the others aged 18-45. The younger patients were found to have a more robust immune response to heartbreak, according to The Telegraph.
“I believe it is the answer to why we sometimes see wives and husbands dying soon after the death of a spouse, who is their main social support,” Dr. Anna Phillips, a researcher at University of Birmingham told The Telegraph. “They are not dying of a broken heart, but the effect the stress is having on their immune function.”
The researchers believe prescribed hormonal supplements at times of great stress may help to alleviate the effects of grieving on the immune system.
“The effects of loss are poorly understood on the whole. We know it affects the immune system amongst other things. But we do not fully understand the role played by our stress hormones,” Phillips said. “We hope this is a step towards that understanding, and being able to provide the best possible support.”