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Kids Face Their Own Death Risks When a Sibling Dies

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Apr 24th 2017

new article illustration

MONDAY, April 24, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- The loss of a sibling can take an emotional toll on a child left behind. Now, new research shows these surviving children may even face a higher risk of early death themselves.

The study of more than 5 million children found the greatest risk in the year after a brother or sister's death, and among kids who lost a same-sex sibling or one who was close in age.

"Health care professionals should be aware of children's vulnerability after experiencing sibling death... Social support may help to reduce the level of grief and minimize potential adverse health effects on the bereaved individuals," study author Yongfu Yu and co-authors wrote. Yu is a doctoral fellow at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.

Yu's team analyzed data from more than 5 million children in Denmark and Sweden. Between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, about 1 percent (55,818) lost a sibling. The survivors' median age when the death occurred was 7.

Over the next 37 years, 534 of the bereaved siblings died. They had a 71 percent higher risk of death from all causes than people who had not lost a sibling, the researchers said.

The findings were published online April 24 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The study did not take into account social environment or family characteristics that might explain the increased likelihood of an earlier death, the researchers acknowledged.

Nearly 8 percent of people in the United States have experienced the death of a sibling in childhood.

More information

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has more on sibling death.