"Making a contribution to the lives of other people may help to extend our own lives," said the paper's lead author, Stephanie Brown, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic and survey research organization.
For the study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, Brown analyzed data on 423 older couples, part of the ISR Changing Lives of Older Couples Study. That study was a random community-based sample of people who were first interviewed in 1987 then followed for five years to see how they coped with the inevitable changes of later life.
During the first set of interviews, the husbands and wives were asked a series of questions about whether they provided any practical support to friends, neighbors or relatives, including help with housework, childcare, errands or transportation. They were also asked how much they could count on help from friends or family members if they needed it. Finally, they were asked about giving and receiving emotional support to or from their spouse, including being willing to listen if their spouse needed to talk.
Over the five-year period of the study, 134 people died. In her analysis of the link between giving and receiving help and mortality, Brown controlled for a variety of factors, including age, gender and physical and emotional health. "I wanted to rule out the possibilities that older people give less and are more likely to die, that females give more and are less likely to die, and that people who are depressed or in poor health are both
Contact: Diane Swanbrow
University of Michigan