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Hadassah Study Documents High Prevalence of Depression in Caregivers of Spouses with Advanced Cancer

Genever McBain

(Jerusalem -- November 09, 2007) -- A study by Dr. Michal Braun, psycho-oncologist at the Hadassah University Medical Center’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 scientifically documents the psychological and physical toll spouse caregivers experience and provides guidelines to identify those at risk. The Hadassah research was conducted in collaboration with Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital and the findings were published in the current October issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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 percent of their ill spouses. Researchers found a direct correlation 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 care giving. There is a need to assist caregivers in their new and demanding role,” Dr. Braun and her colleagues conclude. Relieving the distress of spouse caregivers has important implications for the patients as well and could have a positive impact on their conditions.

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