Children and teens who lose a parent might face an increased risk of an early death in adulthood, a new study suggests.
People who were children or teens when a parent died had a 50 percent greater risk of death during the study period than those who had not experienced the death of a parent, according to the report.
Although the study found an association between a parent's death and a child's later risk of premature death, it wasn't designed to prove cause-and-effect.
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Also, the increased risk of premature death among these people may be due to both genetic factors and the long-term effects of a parent's death on the health and social well-being of a child, researcher Jiong Li and colleagues at Aarhus University in Denmark theorized.
The study findings were published in the journal PLoS Medicine.
The team analysed data on children born in Denmark, Finland and Sweden between 1968 and 2008. Nearly 190,000 children were between 6 months and 18 years when one of their parents died. During a follow-up period ranging from one to 40 years, almost 40,000 of those people died.
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The increased risk of early death persisted into early adulthood, no matter how old a child was when a parent died. The researchers also found that the increased risk of death was higher among children whose parents died from unnatural causes rather than natural causes (84 percent vs. 33 percent). The risk of death was highest among children of parents who committed suicide, according to a journal news release.
The researchers said their findings show the need for health and social support for children and teens who have lost a parent, and added that this support may be necessary for a long time.
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Image: Dead woman's body from Shutterstock