Study: Partners caring for spouses with cancer more likely to suffer depression

Hadassah University findings show that the patients themselves, however, are less depressed.

hospital bed 88 (photo credit: )
hospital bed 88
(photo credit: )
The risk of depression among caregivers - mostly women - who look after spouses suffering from cancer is higher than that of the cancer patients themselves, according to a new study carried out at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem. Dr. Michal Braun, a psycho-oncologist at Hadassah's Sharett Institute of Oncology, documents previous anecdotal evidence that cancer and its treatment have a profound impact on cancer patients' significant others as well as on the patients themselves. The study, conducted in collaboration with Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital and the findings published in the current October issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, scientifically documents the psychological and physical toll spouse caregivers experience and provides guidelines to identify those at risk. Of the 101 patients with advanced cancer and their spouse caregivers who participated in the study, 38.9 percent of the caregivers - two-thirds of them women - reported significant symptoms of depression compared with 23% of their ill spouses. Researchers found a direct connection between the degree of depression and the nature of the marital relationship: Spouse caregivers at greatest risk were very attached to their spouses and experienced the most anxiety about losing them. Conversely, the study revealed that marital discord also contributed significantly to spouse caregivers' depression. "The ability of individuals to adjust to their role as caregivers of ill spouses is affected by both relational variables and by the subjectively experienced burden of caregiving. There is a need to assist caregivers in their new and demanding role," they conclude. Braun and colleagues urged that caregivers be supported, as relieving their distress has important implications for the patients as well and could have a positive impact on their conditions.