The death of a child is difficult at any age, but a newly published study found that parents who lose a child within the first 12 months of life are twice as likely to die or be widowed in the 15 years following the death.

It seems, the researchers say, that bereaved parents can die of a broken heart in much the same way as older married couples.

The study, which was published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, found that early death was even more prominent in women. Bereaved mothers, they said, are four times more likely to die? in the first 15 years after their child’s death. The effect still lingers even 25 years after the death of the child, researchers said, as bereaved mothers are at that time still 1.5 times more likely to die than other mothers.

To conduct the study, according to a press release, researchers looked at a random 5 percent sample of United Kingdom death registrations among parents whose child had survived beyond the first year of life and those whose child had died before reaching a first birthday during the period from 1971 to 2006. They also included parents whose children had been stillborn.

The researchers site that “bereaved parents may also be more likely to use maladaptive coping strategies, such as alcohol misuse.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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