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Death in Elderly

  1. Apr 14, 2018 #1

    Fervent Freyja

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    Has anyone heard of a particular phenomenon where elderly living together begin dying in a chainlike reaction close together?

    4 months ago I lost a constant in my life. I found her dead in her bed. It was one of the most gruesome and shocking events in my life. One of my daughter's biggest supporters, my grandmother-in-law. I am still grieving and although I have witnessed someone die in front of me before and helped others pass comfortably, this is much harder, as she was a true constant in my life. I loved her.

    She cared for 2 elder sisters in the home. I did not expect for her other sister to pass a few days ago. I did not find her, but I saw that she was in the fetal position and had fell in her bedroom. This was also unexpected for me, as I have still been checking up on the sister's since I separated from my husband, and she had been doing well last Friday when I dropped my daughter off for time with them! I saw no signs of her death being near.

    Is there a term for this phenomenon? Everyone keeps telling me that it's common for elderly to start dying around the same time if they are close, is this true?

    I am worried about the last sister in the home, although she is going to live with the youngest sister, I am afraid she is not far behind. She had been by the other sister's side for close to 80 years, neither married, and they always lived together.

    I am afraid she will die soon from heartbreak. Is this an established, real phenomenon, for elderly that are intimate or live together to die so close together? Does anyone have any links to research on these matters?
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  3. Apr 14, 2018 #2


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    I've found this article suggesting that "broken heart syndrome" comes into play. It seems there is some basis behind elderly intimate couples dying together, often through having a broken heart (massive amounts of stress).

    However, I wouldn't expect that it would occur in any elderly people living together, but specifically those with strong emotional bonds (usually intimate relationships lasting for decades).

    Edit: I feel that two sisters living with each other for a long times might see immense stress seeing another pass away regardless of them living together. However, I'm sure everything will pan out fine, the science behind this isn't very solid.
  4. Apr 15, 2018 #3

    Fervent Freyja

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    Stress on the heart? Immune system?

    I am trying to set some preventative measures in place. I have instructed the new caregiver sister to ensure she does not stop eating and drinking. She will be following up with her doctor. But I am wondering if there is anything else we can do to prevent her from dying in the near future? I am trying to find a medical cause for this heartbreak phenomenon.
  5. Apr 24, 2018 #4
    What is called the broken heart syndrome appears to be a specific cardiomyopathy and I don't think its likely to be the main problem when this happens. As we get older our homeostatic mechanisms get progressively less effective and any major life change can present a significant challenge and lead to a number of changes which can increase the risk of death. In the elderly, falls are very strongly associated with increased risk, this may be because falls are symptomatic of other issues, the person is more likely to be injured because of bones being weaker and the failure of defensive reflexes, then their is not having the strength to effectively make yourself safe.
    These things will all be potential issues for the surviving sister, dealing with a loss like this will inevitably involve the need for major changes, its not just the loss of the person, this is the loss of a whole way of living and the loss of hope for the future. One of the most obvious issues would be the depression of bereavement and the lack of self care, your obviously aware of eating and drinking being issues, but people often become much more sedentary which can be difficult to monitor. A sudden change in the level of activity also increases the risk of some cardiovascular problems, its also thought that depression increases the risk of cardiac arrhythmia's. Again age is associated with alterations in immune competence, it can be quite difficult to link adverse health effects to difficult life events, despite what is popularized in magazines, but there are good theoretical reasons to assume that immunity may be suppressed and this is much more likely to be significant in the elderly.
    The problem is that the stress associated with major life events can cause so many physiological changes its difficult to try to control for them all, even trying to control depression with drugs in the elderly is far more difficult and introduces other risks. Its sad and difficult to know how best to help.
  6. May 10, 2018 #5

    Fervent Freyja

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    Thanks @Laroxe. Something just struck me. I keep looking back for signs that the sister had become more sedentary the last few months.

    Her patterns in routine did actually change. Now, I note, she had been in her housecoat more frequently when I visited and she changed her seating. Clues to her basic self-care routine being disrupted?

    I recall observing her energy levels, they seem to have increased, and she was speaking more and seemed to be in a better mood- I mistook that, I think. I did not look very closely for signs her immunity was being disrupted. Again, I assumed.

    Honestly, I am still perplexed about the physiological mechanisms behind which a fall can cause death so easily?
  7. May 10, 2018 #6
    My great grandmother died and then my grandfather a few days after. When you reach very old ages, "will to survive" can be pretty powerful. So when that "will" is gone, it doesn't take long.
  8. May 10, 2018 #7

    Fervent Freyja

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    It's sad. The last of the trio and my daughter have a deep bond. I think I am hoping that she will live longer and don't want to accept she will lose her soon, too. I keep thinking if everyone worked together to keep her healthy, then she could potentially live many more years. But, I do not know what she wants to do. I know that she and the last sister never left each other's side for near a century. I think she may lose the will to live as you mentioned. Sad for everyone.
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