Dyadic Effects of Depressive Symptoms on Medical Morbidity in Middle-Aged and Older Couples

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Abstract

Objective: Depressive symptoms in middle and later life are associated with an increased risk of greater medical morbidity (i.e., number of chronic health conditions). Yet little is known about mutual influences that may occur within married couples. This study examined the effects of wives’ and husbands’ depressive symptoms on their own and their partner’s number of chronic health conditions over an 8-year period. It was also determined whether these effects varied by gender. Method: The U.S. sample included 992 heterosexual couples (M = 63.58 years at baseline) drawn from 5 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (2006–2014). Dyadic growth curve models were estimated to evaluate the effects of own and partner baseline depressive symptoms on medical morbidity across time. Models controlled for baseline marital duration and negative marital quality along with age, education, minority status, health-related self-efficacy, body mass index, disability status, alcohol use, smoking, and moderate and vigorous physical activity. Results: Husbands’ higher baseline depressive symptoms were significantly linked to their own higher number of chronic conditions. When wives had higher depressive symptoms at baseline, husbands showed significantly greater increases in their number of chronic conditions over time. Own and partner depressive symptoms were not significantly associated with baseline levels or changes in wives’ number of chronic conditions. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that depressive symptoms within middle-aged and older couples may have long-term associations with medical morbidity. Findings underscore the value of considering the implications of depressive symptoms for chronic health conditions among individuals and couples.

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