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Can a "Broken Heart" Cause Death?

Broken Heart

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Poetry through the ages, has long suggested that a lover could die of a broken heart following the loss of a their loved one …a beautiful lady poet known only as “Marie de France” and who is said to have lived and composed her love poetry in the last half of the 12th century England, created an untitled poem that describes how she and her lover would soon die if separated…

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“TOGETHER THEY CAN LONG ENDURE,

YET ONCE THEY ARE SEPARATED

THE HAZEL DIES ALMOST AT ONCE,

THE HONEYSUCKLE VERY SOON.

“MY DARLING, IT IS SO WITH US!

NO YOU WITHOUT ME,

NO ME WITHOUT YOU!”

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(Marie de France)

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From time to time we will hear of some life long marriage love affair in which the husband and the wife will both die on the same day or within a few hours or days of each other…frequently it is said that following the death of one life long marriage partner, the remaining spouse then died as a result of a broken heart!...while many of us with a romantically inclined heart would be sympathetic to this idea, the question then arises:  can one really die of a broken heart?”

Perhaps one could say that it’s a testimony to the power of love – I have found examples of couples who feel so deeply for each other that when one spouse dies, the other succumbs soon after…here are some actual true life stories that would perhaps better serve to make my point….

In three (3) or over half of the cases described below, one of the dementia diseases was clearly involved but that did not prevent or break that special bond of love…

One of the pages on this web site that discusses marriage and Alzheimer’s also contains the stories of two marriages in which both husband and wife died in only a matter of hours of each other…A check online quickly found three more recent cases of such marriages…these five cases are summarized below:

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Five Case Histories

These actual examples of deaths due to broken hearts, are cases that span the width of the country from Baltimore, Maryland to Long Beach, California with three other examples in middle American at Louisville, Kentucky, Lexington Kentucky and  Versailles, Ohio…Most cases involve the frail and elderly as suggested in these case histories. Case No. 5 involves husband and wife both with Alzheimer's in different nursing homes die within 2 minutes of each other...in spite of their damaged brains and miles apart, they still had a special communication system and a connection...

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1.  Baltimore Sun newspaper of 16 September 2005Max L. Cohen, 97 and Bessie Cohen, 94, Wedded 74 Years, Died an Hour Apart “For more than seven decades, Max and Bessie Cohen had shared a loving and productive life together, blessed by two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and enriched by a wide circle of adoring friends….Both died Monday, ending 74 years and nine months of marriage- he from complications of dementia at 97, and she in her sleep at 94 – in the home they had shared since 1978 in Northwest Baltimore’s Pickwick Apartments.

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2.  Huffington Post  27 January 2012 “Long Married Couple Presley and Ethel Bradshaw Die Hours Apart The news article indicates that this Kentucky couple had been married for 73 years when they died 4 hours apart in a Louisville Nursing home. (Meadowview Health and Rehab Center) Ethel had entered the nursing home 4 years earlier when her health declined. It was said that she had “Dementia”. Presley, visited his wife there several times a week…He would hold her hand, kiss all over her, tell her how much he loved her and missed her…two years later, he moved into the center to be with his wife...They were the true epitome of the word love, said Meadowview nurse Chasity Stoudemire…Presley died first, with Ethel following him four hours later. Though Ethel suffered from dementia, Bass (Director of Admissions) believes she was aware that her husband had died...it seems that long married couples are often intrinsically aware of the death of one spouse, perhaps because of their strong bond. The couple were married on Oct. 21, 1938 in Somerset, Kentucky”.

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3.  Fox News 31 August 2013Harold and Ruth Knapke died within 11 hours of each other in their shared room in a Versailles, Ohio, Nursing Home. The Knapkes had been married for 65 years…Margaret Knapke, one of the couple’s six children, told The Dayton Daily News — which first reported news of the couple’s death on Sunday — that she also believed the timing was not coincidental. “In recent years, we often speculated that Dad was still here, in this life, because of Mom,” Knapke said in her Aug. 16 eulogy, according to the newspaper. “It seemed that, even though his health and strength were so very diminished, he couldn’t stop being her protector; it seems he didn’t want to leave her behind.”Ruth Knapke had developed a severe infection days before her death, Simon said, prompting the couple’s children to warn their father that the outlook was grim. “When it became clear that Mom was dying — and Dad understood that — he spent a mostly sleepless night,” Knapke said. “The next day, Friday, there was a certain calm about him, and he began to fail rapidly. As you might know, Dad died 11 hours before Mom did — both of them on Sunday — and we believe he did that as final act of love for her. We believe he wanted to accompany her out of this life and into the next one, and he did.”

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4.  Long Beach Press Telegram 29 July 2013Les and Helen Brown died within a day of one another in their Long Beach California Home. They had been married for 75 years…That bond was so strong that neither Les nor Helen wanted to live without each other, though they knew that the end might be imminent. Les had been sick with Parkinson’s disease for some time, and Helen was battling stomach cancer. Les recently slipped into a coma at the couple’s Long Beach, Calif., home, and hospice workers said he might live for just a few more days. Helen, who was expected to survive for some months, became very weak. She passed away on July 16. Les died the following day!

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5.  Lexington Herald Leader 12 April 2015..."Hanging on one 93-year-old man's wall at a Kentucky nursing home was a photo collage of him and his wife. It was titled 'Lill & Bil Wilson, together forever'. That sentiment came true this week when, after 73 years of marriage, William Wild Bill' Wilson and his wife Lillian Karr Wilson died just two minutes apart from each other. Both Lillian, 89, and Bill were Alzheimer's patients and for the last couple of years had to live in separate nursing homes. Lillian resided at Richmond Place in Lexington, while Bill stayed at the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore. After 73 years of marriage, high school sweethearts Doug Wilson, 93, and Lillian Kerr Wilson, 89, passed away just two minutes apart from each other this week…But on Tuesday their connection proved strong as ever when one of their sons, Doug, received a phone call at 3.52am to inform him that his father had passed away. Just five minutes later the phone rang again. Doug said it was his mother's nursing home, calling with the same sad news .'We all look at it as a blessing,' Doug told the Lexington Herald Leader, (12 April 2015) 'because we're going to have one funeral for both of them. 'Doug, 66, believes it will also make it easier for the family to grieve. We’re looking at it as a celebration of life because they had a great life…the couple first met in Corbin, where they were both athletes and high school sweethearts.

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Lonely Man 

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I have now researched the science in the question: “Can a broken heart cause death?”… The answer is Yes, it can and the science is there to back it up! The first item below is by the American Heart Association that discusses this idea in detail. Other commentaries follow.

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Science Says: “Yes”, People Die of Broken Hearts!

American Heart Association 15 April 2013You can die of a broken heart — it's scientific fact —

“And my heart has been breaking since that very first day we met. I can feel it now, aching deep behind my rib cage the way it does every time we're together, beating a desperate rhythm: Love me. Love me. Love me.” Abby McDonald, Getting Over Garrett Delaney

When you think of a broken heart, you may picture a cartoon drawing with a jagged line through it. But a real-life broken heart can actually lead to cardiac consequences. There are established ties between depression, mental health and heart disease.

Breakdown of a Broken Heart: Broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, can strike even if you’re healthy.

Women are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain— the reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event. It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection…(Stan’s Note: A university of Arkansas study (2007)…found that women were more likely to suffer the syndrome than men and it was three times more common in women over 55 than in younger women. One theory for the difference is that hormones play a role…another is that men have more adrenaline receptors on cells in their hearts then women do and perhaps can better handle the chemical surges that stress releases…

Broken heart syndrome may be misdiagnosed as a heart attack because the symptoms and test results are similar. In fact, tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances that are typical of a heart attack. But unlike a heart attack, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome.

In broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. Researchers are just starting to learn the causes, and how to diagnose and treat it.

The bad news: Broken heart syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure.The good news: Broken heart syndrome is usually treatable. Most people who experience it make a full recovery within weeks, and they’re at low risk for it happening again (although… it can be fatal)

Signs and Symptoms: The most common signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome are angina (chest pain) and shortness of breath. You can experience these things even if you have no history of heart disease

Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) or cardiogenic shock also may occur with broken heart syndrome. Cardiogenic shock is a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, and it can be fatal if it isn’t treated right away. (When people die from heart attacks, cardiogenic shock is the most common cause of death.)

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Today Health, 28 August 2013 also has discussion of the subject: “Died of a Broken Heart? The Science Behind Close Couple Deaths”.

Back in the '90s scientists discovered that extreme stress – such as that brought on by the death of a beloved spouse – could cause a medical condition that they dubbed “broken heart syndrome.”

The death of a loved one, scientists discovered, can lead to a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline, which can cause the left side of the heart to suddenly balloon in size. While the enlarged side struggles to pump, the right side keeps pumping sometimes with even more forceful contractions.

The end result is something that looks very much like a heart attack from the outside, right down to the intense chest pain. The difference is that there is no blockage or clogged arteries causing the heart malfunction. And while most people come out of it OK, the syndrome can be fatal especially among those who are already frail.

 “We see it at the hospice – spouses dying within days or weeks of one another,” says Casarett, medical director of hospice and palliative care at the University of Pennsylvania Health Care System. “It definitely happens.”

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Womens tears

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How Common is Death Due to a Broken Heart?

“After our first few patients in 1999, I started scouring the literature to see what was out there. The only thing I came across were a few studies out of Japan about “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy” — which turns out to be the same thing. But these articles never made it out of the Japanese literature. When we published a report on the syndrome in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005, the consensus was that this is ‘interesting but probably uncommon.’ Thirteen years later, we’ve seen over 250 patients with this at Johns Hopkins alone. Now that doctors know the signs, it’s turning out to be fairly common. Through retrospective studies, we’ve been able to determine that 2 percent of the people who were rushed to a cath lab with a suspected heart attack actually had Broken Heart Syndrome. That’s quite a lot when you think about the millions worldwide who are rushed to the cath lab every year. For women in particular, it’s even higher — anywhere from five to seven percent. My guess is the number of cases diagnosed is going to keep growing in the years to come, as more doctors learn to identify it”… Dr. Han Wittstein, Assistant Professor of Medicine, John Hopkins Hospital - 14 February 2012..

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Heart Beats and Breathing Rhythm will Synchronize

Perhaps the most dramatic research is that which proves that two hearts will often beat as one and even the breathing of loved ones will synchronize...two hearts really DO beat as one if you're in love: Scientists find that even a couples' vital signs mimic each other

Couples breathing patterns and heart beat rates will synchronize when they sit close to one another...This effect was not found in paired up strangers…

 It was also found that women are more empathetic in their adjustment to a loved one’s vital signs rhythms…

They do not have to be holding hands or talking for this to happen…the same effect was not found among strangers…

A research team from the University of California, Davis, were studying the physical effects of being in a relationship. They discovered there was more to it than their hearts both skipping a beat at the sight of each other.

Study leader Professor Emilio Ferrer, said: 'We’ve seen a lot of research that one person in a relationship can experience what the other person is experiencing emotionally, but this study also shows they share experiences at a physiological level.'

The team conducted a series of exercises on 32 straight couples, who were connected to heart rate and respiration monitors. They were asked to sit a few feet away from each other in a quiet room but not to speak or touch...

The data indicated both partners had similar patterns of heart rate and respiration… women tended to adjust theirs more to that of their partners….'In other words, we found that women adjust in relationship to their partners.” - Jonathan Helm, a UC Davis doctoral student... “Her heart rate is linked to her partner’s. I think it means women have a strong link to their partners.”

The couples were then mixed up and performed the same exercises with a stranger…This time their hearts did not show synchrony, nor did their breathing closely match.

The research has been published in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion…, 12 February 2013.

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Heart Attack Risk Factors

1. The risk of a heart attack and death is highest in the first month after the death of a marriage partner or a loved one...particularly so if the lovers are elderly and frail.

2. The risk of a heart attack and death declines slowly during the first year after the death of a marriage partner or a loved one.

3. The stress caused by the death of a marriage partner or a loved one has immediate over all negative health effects on one’s body.…

 

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Notes on Marie de France

One of the great mysteries coming out of the Medieval times is the lady poet known only as “Marie de France”…her last name is unknown. Based on her literary works, she lived in the last half of the 12th century...Circa 1160-1199. Very little else is known about her.

Marie was thought to have been born in the Normandy area of France and later migrated to England…she wrote poetry for King Henry II. There is speculation that she may have been a half sister to the king...she was said to be well educated and very popular in the Royal Society among Barons, Counts and Knights.

What littleI know about Marie is simple...this lady grabs at my heart strings when I read her love inspired poetry...the below painting of Marie would suggest that like June, she is a beautiful lady.

Marie de France 

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Reader's Comments

Stephanie Ryder - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - (20 August 2014): "I believe this...They say my uncle died of this. He died two months following the death of his mother."

Donna Dischert Blake  - Havertown, Pennsylvania - (20 August 2014): "Beautifully written. Brought me to tears."

Lin Schmidt  - Anoka, Minnesota - (20 August 2914):"Wow, Stan.  I've heard of couples dying within hours of each other, but this series of couples really cements it for me! Thanks for posting!...Lin."

Ann Farr  - Wrexham, United Kingdom - (21 August 2014): "That's is beautiful - may I share the link? (Yes)"

Jackie Cumberland - York, United Kingdom - (21 August 2014):"So moving."

Denise Roberts  - Southend-on-Sea, United Kingdom - (21 August 2014): "I know my mum died of a broken heart for my dad...As well being so lonely without him she seemed to go down hill after his death...was always a strong women...it seemed she gave up"

Wanda Montgomery - Woodstock, Georgia - (21 August 2014): "Beautiful Stan, just Beautiful."

Louise Ann Howard  - Batemans Bay, New South Wales, Australia - (21 August 2014): "Actually I believe this Stan, have not had time to read fully will do ASAP mate."

Joan Best- Liverpool, United Kingdom- (21 August 2014):"Beautiful..."

Bertha Dusenberry - West Lafayette, Ohio- (21 August 2014): "Beautiful Stan....and so true."

Sharon Carroll- Ryde, Portsmouth, United Kingdom - (22 August 2014): "The day my grandad went to the surgery to ask for help, grandma had Alzheimer's, he sat in the waiting room and had a heart attack. He always said he would care for her until the day he dies."

Ken Barnes  - Liss, Hampshire, United Kingdom - (22 August 2014): "Beautiful my friend."

Bridie Breen - Manchester, United Kingdom - (22 August 2014): "I have known couples with lifelong partnerships, die within a short space. My uncle did not last long when aunty died."

Catherine Hutchinson  - Liverpool, United Kingdom - (22 August 2014): "One of the London hospitals and many more such as the Mayo Clinic study the broken heart syndrome which I had no idea existed even a year ago."

Bonnie Seip - Ottsville, Pennsylvania - (22 August 2014): "Yes, This is so True ! Thanks for sharing your Research !!!!"

Amy Stiel Almas - Waterford, Michigan - (8 April 2015):"So true, Stan. I have seen it many times over in my nursing career."

John Stevens  - Twin Falls, Idaho - (8 April 2015):"It is as if their hearts beat as one. When one stops the other slows and quits. 

Dianne Wood - Connah's Quay, United Kingdom - (9 April 2015):"My great grandma died within weeks of my great grandad, it's always been said she died of a broken heart ."

Delilah Hoover Ogle - Columbus, Indiana - (9 April 2015):"Yes, they can ! We have a friend , his wife passed four years ago , just minutes before her birthday, He , has given up doing much living . We , told him , his wife would still want him to live life . WHEN YOU'VE BEEN TOGETHER OVER FIFTY YEARS , I SURE IT'S THE HARDEST THING TO DO! GOD BLESS YOU ."

 

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June's Passing

June 1994

After an almost 12 year journey into the shadows of Alzheimer's, early one morning in late October 2008, an exhausted June felt God's gentle touch on her shoulder and heard the words: "Come Home June!" As June lay like a wounded soldier on a battlefield, it was God's Angels that ushered June into a Heavenly Kingdom to the sound of a chorus of Angels...and into June's new home, a "Mansion on the Hilltop", where there is no pain, nor illness nor tears...June's funeral notice as published in the Minneapolis Star in October 2008 can be seen on this website in the drop down menu under the "In Memoriam" label - just Click on:

 

"June K. (Rolstad) Berg - In Memoriam"