Spouses of Cardiac Patients Need Information, Support to Help Loved Ones Recover, UB Nursing Study Shows

By Lois Baker

Release Date: December 13, 1993 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Spouses of cardiac patients need quick medical information, access to people who have had the same experience, and support from family, friends or a formal group to help their loved ones recover and to cope personally with the trauma, a University at Buffalo study has shown.

The study was conducted by the UB School of Nursing to gather data on how cardiac illness affects families and to develop ways in which nurses can support families, which in turn should help patients recover.

“Spouses are the most important people in providing support for the patients,” said Suzanne Steffan Dickerson, UB clinical assistant professor of nursing and author of the study. “There are many rehabilitation programs that help patients cope with convalescence and lifestyle changes, but there are only a few designed to help families.”

Information from this study, which was published in the Journal of the New York State Nurses Association, will help nurses develop support groups for spouses in cardiac rehabilitation centers, Dickerson said.

Data was collected from 13 spouses of new patients in a Western New York cardiac rehabilitation program. Participants ranged in age from 38-86; 11 were women, two were men.

Results showed that during the first two phases of the experience -- finding out and hospitalization -- the need for information was paramount. Initially, spouses needed to know in clear language what was wrong with their loved ones. Guilt over not knowing anything was wrong with their spouse, and anxiety about the future were primary experiences. Spouses needed to know results of tests and procedures quickly.

During hospitalization, fear and fatigue were primary experiences, the study showed. Information about upcoming surgery, the patient’s status after surgery and access to someone who had been through the experience before were important.

During the third phase of the experience -- recovery -- spouses needed to find a way of understanding what had happened and a means of expressing their feelings, results showed. They also needed first-hand information about what to expect in their new lifestyle and how to know what is normal under the circumstances.

• Be sensitive to the needs of spouses.

• Make information available and provide an environment conducive to information exchange.

• Have volunteers available who have had personal experience with a cardiac illness.

• Give details about recovery routines and necessary changes in lifestyle when both spouse and patient are present. This approach helps the spouse support patient compliance.

• Provide spouses with information on support groups and health-care services.