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Why older couples die together
There have been several reports in recent years about older couples dying together, hands locked. Why? The reason may be scientific, or something more. - photo by Herb Scribner
Earlier this month, Floyd and Violet Hartwig, who had been married for 67 years, passed away right next to each other five hours apart.

Floyd, 90, and Violet, 90, had been in hospice care and died while holding hands after their children moved their beds closer together, according to The Fresno Bee.

"They wanted to go together," said daughter Donna Scharton to the Bee. "It was meant to be that way."

The Hartwigs are far from the first elderly couple to pass away in each other's arms. Back in 2011, Gordon, 94, and Norma Teager, 91, also died together after 72 years of marriage, according to ABC News. The couple was involved in a car accident that sent them to the hospital. They died one hour apart, holding hands, much like the Hartwigs.

We see it all the time, Dr. Hope Wechkin, the medical director of Evergreen Hospice, told NBC News. I think its about connection. For many people, their spouse represents their greatest sense of connection to this world.

Widows and widowers are at least 30 percent more likely to die within six months of their spouse passing away than those who havent lost their partner, according to a study from the University of Glasgow. Often times, the study said, this is because of the stress caused by losing a partner.

The stress of a partners death leads spouses to suffer from what many people call broken heart syndrome, which is when stress weakens your hearts muscles and makes you more vulnerable to a possible heart attack, according to a study from the University of Aberdeen.

The death of a spouse also leads widowers to heart attacks and strokes, according to Harvard Medical School. In fact, those who lost a spouse or partner were more likely to have a stroke or heart attack within 30 days of their partners death than those who hadnt lost a partner, the study said.

Emotional stress will clearly wreak havoc with the sympathetic nervous system, and that can lead to problems, Dr. Peter Stone, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told Harvard Health Publications.

But even though the risk of death increases after a partner passes away, the actual amount of deaths specifically caused by this phenomenon are small. Researchers noted that the older participants in the study, who were more likely to lose their partner, were also at a higher risk for coronary disease.

And older couples who die at the same time may not be an actual occurrence at all, but more cherry-picking by the media. Dean Burnett of The Guardian reported that media companies highlight these couples because they present a sweet and reassuring story for married couples. Young couples who die together, meanwhile, wont be touted by the media because that story is often just tragic, according to The Guardian.

But some older couples, like the Hartwigs, might contest that love, and dying in each other's arms, is ever tragic.

"What I want people to get out of this story is my dad's commitment to serving his country and loving his family, said Scharton, according to ABC News. What we felt was keeping them alive was the will to live, and that they didnt want to let go of each other."
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