“The spouses of advanced cancer patients are really carrying the load. Cancer is a devastating illness, and a patient’s primary resource is the partner, who often doesn’t have the information she needs to deal with these complex problems,” says lead study author Laurel Northouse, Ph.D., R.N., co-director of a Socio-Behavioral Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. The study found that what really impacted emotional distress – among both patients and their spouses – was whether the patient was newly diagnosed, facing a recurrence or living with advanced disease.
The researchers looked at 263 men with prostate cancer and their spouses. Participants were recruited from three large cancer centres. Both the men and their wives completed questionnaires that assessed quality of life, including physical, social, family, emotional and functional issues.
Patients and spouses each reported on their own quality of life. The researchers found little difference in quality of life between patients and spouses, but found significant differences based on the phase of their illness. Couples coping with advanced disease had significantly poorer overall quality of life.
Spouses reported lower confidence than patients in their ability to manage the illness, and more uncertainty about the illness. Patients also reported more social support than did spouses. “Doctors, nurses and even family and friends often focus mainly on the patient who has cancer and don’t realize the illness has enormous ramifications on the family, especially the spouse,” Northouse says.
The researchers urge more health care interventions aimed at emotional distress for both patients and caregivers. At the same time, caregivers should recognize they too are emotionally affected by this illness and seek appropriate support. Patients also can play a role by encouraging their spouse to be actively involved in their care.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Michigan Health System