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Money Can Buy Happiness When Ill

Disabled report better well-being when income is higher

FRIDAY, April 8, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Being financially comfortable appears to ease the woes of disability, at least in the short term, reports a University of Michigan study.

"When you get a major new problem in your life, you are likely to get over it -- people are amazingly resilient -- but it is easier and faster with financial resources," said study author Dr. Peter Ubel, a professor of internal medicine and psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In an eight-year study of 478 people over the age of 50 experiencing temporary or chronic disability, 167 people whose income was above the median net worth of those in the study reported being substantially happier, less lonely and less sad than those whose income fell below the median, which was $98,400.

However, two years later, those with lower median incomes reported an increase in happiness, closing the gap between the differing rates of the two groups, report the researchers.

The findings appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.

For the study, researchers used data from the University of Michigan's Health and Retirement study to track people's emotional responses to being disabled. Disability was defined by being unable to carry out the routines of daily living without help, including getting out of bed, walking, eating and getting dressed. Some of the disabilities included Parkinson's disease, an amputation due to diabetes, or macular degeneration of the eye that caused failing vision.

After controlling for health, age and education, the researchers found those with higher incomes were about 10 percent more likely to report being happier than those with lower incomes, and less likely to report sadness or loneliness in the two years following the start of their disability.

The findings are similar to some other studies correlating financial issues with short-term health outcomes.

A report last year from the Mid America Heart Institute of Saint Luke's Hospital, in Kansas City, found that heart patients who reported being worried about the costs of their illness had a death rate after one year (5.9 percent) that was nearly double that of heart patients without undue financial concern (3.5 percent).

The finding should increase the awareness of the importance of asking patients about financial concerns as part of their treatment, said the report's author, Carole J. Decker, project manager of cardiovascular outcomes at Saint Luke's.

"When patients are being assessed for different procedures at discharge, they could be asked about financial costs," she said. "They could then be put in touch with a hospital social services department to see if they need help with medications, or transportation to their doctor's appointments."

Ubel said he became interested in studying the relationship between money and illness when a close friend was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.

His friend, he said, has the financial means to afford full-time help and a customized wheelchair and has managed to remain working and maintain relatively good spirits while coping with his disease, but Ubel wondered how people without his friend's resources would cope.

He said that while the study's finding do not prove a definitive cause and effect between having money and being happier with illness, it does suggest that people should anticipate that they will likely face some kind of disability in their lifetime and realize that they will have an easier time adjusting to illness if they are not worried about money.

"It doesn't hurt to save for a rainy day," he said.

More information

AARP has much more on financial planning for your future.

SOURCES: Peter Ubel, M.D., professor, internal medicine and psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Carole J. Decker, R.N., Ph.D., project manager, cardiovascular outcomes, Mid America Heart Institute, Saint Luke's Hospital, Kansas City, Mo.; Psychological Science
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