Psychological recovery after a heart attack or angioplasty may be delayed if patients’ spouses feel even more anxious or depressed than their ill partners, researchers say.
“Spouse anxiety, depression and perceived control were significantly correlated with patient anxiety, depression, hostility and psychological adjustment to illness,” say Debra K. Moser, R.N., D.N.Sc., of the University of Kentucky and Kathleen Dracup, R.N., D.N.Sc., of the University of California, San Francisco.
Helping spouses cope with illness in the family may also help patients make that adjustment sooner, they add.
Their research appears in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
The researchers interviewed 417 pairs of heart patients and their spouses. Both groups recorded higher-than-normal scores for anxiety and depression, but spouses responded more negatively to the experience than did patients. They felt more anxiety and depression and less in control of the situation. Half the patients and 56 percent of the spouses were above the norm for anxiety, while 57 percent of the patients and 67 percent of the spouses registered above the norm for depression.
Patients seemed to take psychological cues from their partners’ emotions. They adjusted best when spouses were less anxious or depressed than they were. They fared worse when their spouses’ mood declined.
However, that opens a door to helping both groups, Moser says: “Patients’ psychological recovery may be improved by enhancing spouses’ emotional state.”
She suggests that both spouses and patients be evaluated after a heart attack or angioplasty to target those with higher levels of anxiety and depression.
“Decreasing spouses’ anxiety and depression may be a cost-effective way to intervene to improve patients’ psychological status,” she says.
Since heart patients often attend education or counseling sessions about their condition, it would take only a small additional step to include their spouses and help reduce their emotional burden.
Support for this research was provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.