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J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2012 Jan-Feb;27(1):24-32. doi: 10.1097/JCN.0b013e3182129ce7.

Examining the interrelatedness of patient and spousal stress in heart failure: conceptual model and pilot data.

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  • 1Northwest HSR&D Center of Excellence, VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, Washington, USA.



Recent research has highlighted the positive influence that spouses can have on patient outcomes. It is not clear whether patients and spouses influence each other's well-being reciprocally or whether spousal well-being affects the success of patients' disease management. Our goals were 2-fold: (a) to propose a conceptual framework to examine the reciprocity between patient and spouses' well-being, especially as it relates to disease management, and (b) to begin to assess the validity of this model using pilot data.


Twenty-three veterans with heart failure (HF) and their spouses were recruited into a pilot cross-sectional observational study. Participants completed psychosocial surveys to assess depressive symptoms, caregiver burden, relationship satisfaction, and disease management. Descriptive analyses and bivariate correlations between these measures were calculated.


Using standard cutoffs, analyses suggested clinically significant depressive symptoms in patients (Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression score >16; mean, 21.8 [SD, 13]) and a high level of caregiver burden among spouses (Zarit Burden Interview score >15; mean, 22.4 [SD, 15.4]). Both patients and spouses reported high relationship satisfaction levels (Dyadic Adjustment Scale score >100; mean, 112.6 [SD, 26.5] and 115.9 [SD, 14.4], respectively). On average, patients reported poor disease management (Self-care of Heart Failure Index subscale <70 across all subscales: confidence = 53.3 [SD, 28.2]; maintenance = 59.7 [SD, 17.3]; management = 54.0 [SD, 19.4]). Patient depressive symptoms were positively correlated with spouse depressive symptoms (r = 0.53) and caregiver burden (r = 0.64; all P's < .05). Spouses' depressive symptoms were additionally correlated with lower levels of perceived social support among patients (r = -0.47), poor patient relationship satisfaction (r = -0.51), and worse patient confidence in HF management (r = -0.48). Greater caregiver burden was associated with more patient disease complaints (r = 0.49), poorer patients' relationship satisfaction (r = -0.72), and poorer patients' perceived social support (r = -0.73).


These results provide preliminary support to the proposed conceptual model. Further research is necessary to determine which spousal factors appear to be most relevant to disease management. Disease management interventions may benefit from engaging spouses in a way that enhances their role without adding to their burden.

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