Widowhood and immune system: register-based study of anti-infective medication use in Denmark, 1995-2012

Adriana Santacroce, Sapienza Università di Roma
Jonas Wastesson, Karolinska Institutet
Kaare Christensen, University of Southern Denmark and Odense University Hospital
Anna Oksuzyan, Max-Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Spousal loss is a major life event that has negative implications with respect to health and mortality for the outliving spouse. In general, health disadvantages are found to be more pronounced for widowers than for widows and recent researches suggest that spousal loss compromises the immune defense among older individuals. However, it remains to be investigated whether the decline in the immune defense has a sex-specific pattern and, consequently, may contribute to the excess male mortality after widowhood. The aim of this study is to examine the changes in the immune system after widowhood and whether these changes are sex-specific. The register data available of the 5% sample of the total Danish population was used to address this research question. Drugs classified as Anti-Infectives for Systemic Use in the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System (ATC- J) were used as a proxy of immune system. The study included a case-cohort comparison (widowed vs married individuals). Descriptive results show that women have a higher use of ATC-J drugs compared to men and this difference is more pronounced among widowed than among married controls. The ATC-J medication use increases after widowhood, and this increase is similar in men and women. Preliminary conclusions find no support for higher decline of immune system in widowers.

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 Presented in Session P2. Poster Session 2