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Gray divorce negatively affects seniors' health

Divorce rates for people over 50 have doubled in the last three decades, and that's bad news -- primarily because divorce has some seriously negative effects on seniors.

So-called "gray divorces" are rising far faster than divorces among other age groups, with the greatest number of them occurring between the ages of 50 and 64. Researchers believe that divorce among seniors is rising because people are generally living longer, and women are more financially independent.

Both of those factors make it increasingly unlikely that someone will have an incentive to stay in an unhappy marriage. In addition, researchers think that a cultural shift in attitudes toward marriage -- which is now seen as a method of achieving personal happiness and less of a "business" agreement centered on keeping the family unit stable.

Unfortunately, just like marriage, divorce isn't always the road to happiness. No matter who initiates a divorce, the situation can be stressful. The breakup is only one type of stress that comes with a divorce. There are also stresses that go along with the changes in financial circumstances, residences and social standing or friendships that come with divorce. All of these things can have a negative effect on a senior's health.

In particular, seniors who divorce seem to be especially prone to anxiety and depression. For those who have escaped an abusive marriage, post-traumatic stress disorder is a possibility. Medical science increasingly links stress to physical disorders like diabetes, heart problems, Parkinson's disease and a weaker immune system.

So what can seniors do to alleviate the problem? Staying in an unhappy marriage isn't the answer. Instead, researchers say it helps to prepare for the changes and anticipate some adjustments. Those include:

  • Avoiding isolation and self-isolating behaviors. Divorcing seniors need to get out and socialize -- even if they don't feel like it.
  • Reducing risky behavioral patterns. Seniors should avoid impulse spending, overeating, heavy drinking and other activities that might stress their bodies.
  • Focusing on healthy habits. Divorcing seniors need to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.

Finally, it's always smart to consider therapy after a breakup, especially when you're facing some long-term changes to your entire way of life. There are plenty of ways to have a healthy life after divorce, but you may need someone to guide you at the beginning and help keep you from getting off track.

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