Death of a spouse, child research presented at American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions

Dr Tom Buckley

Dr Tom Buckley

Dr Tom Buckley, senior lecturer and cardiovascular researcher at Sydney Nursing School, has been given the honour of participating in the American Heart Association's distinguished International Lunch Forum as part of its Scientific Sessions 2010 in Chicago from 13 to 17 November.

The AHA International Lunch Forums highlight research from the 10 countries with the largest number of accepted abstracts, adjusted by individual country population. Tom is one of five scientists from Australia with the highest scored abstracts who will be featured as part of this program.

Tom Buckley was lead researcher of a ground-breaking study examining the health impact of bereavement on recently bereaved spouses and parents. Early findings from the study published in the Internal Medicine Journal in 2009 reported the impact of bereavement on psychological and behavioural cardiac risk factors. At the AHA scientific meeting, Tom will present further findings from this study reporting the impact of bereavement on heart rate, rhythm and variability, which have all been associated with increased cardiovascular risk.

The research found that acute bereavement from the death of a spouse or child, particularly during the early weeks, can cause elevated heart rates and other potentially harmful heart rhythm changes which could increase the risk of heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.

According to Tom, "While the focus at the time of bereavement is naturally directed towards the deceased person, the health and welfare of bereaved survivors should also be of concern to healthcare professionals, as well as family and friends. Some bereaved, especially those already at increased cardiovascular risk, might benefit from medical review, and they should seek healthcare assistance for any possible cardiac symptoms."

Tom and his co-researchers studied 78 bereaved spouses and parents within two weeks of the death of a spouse or child after six months. They then compared them to a group of volunteers who had not lost a loved one. Bereaved participants consisted of 55 women and 23 men who were between 33 and 91 years old.

"While our findings do not establish causality, they are consistent with evidence for psychosocial triggering of cardiovascular events," Tom said.

"They highlight the need for further investigation of the link between bereavement and cardiovascular risk including potential preventive measures."

Other members of the research team included Professor Geoffrey Tofler, Associate Professor Roger Bartrop, Professor Sharon McKinley, Dr Anastasia Susie Mihailidou, Associate Professor Christopher Ward, Dr Marie-Christine Morel-Kopp, Ms Monica Spinaze, Ms Margaret Bramwell, Ms Dianne Roche, Ms Angela Tannard, Ms Belinda Hocking, Ms Kerrie Goldston, Ms Jenny Havyatt, Emeritus Professor Christopher Tennant, and Mr Walter Chen.

The North Shore Heart Research Foundation, Sydney and the National Heart Foundation of Australia funded the study.