Severe sepsis — a dangerous response to an infection — has become a silent epidemic among the elderly.
Not only does it lower the quality of life for patients themselves, but it puts their spouses at a greater risk of depression, according to a study from the University of Michigan.
Sepsis occurs when an infection such as pneumonia or urinary tract infection throws off the immune system, triggering an attack against the body itself and causing damage to vital body organs, bleeding, organ failure and possibly death.
In the study, researchers found that wives whose husbands were hospitalized for severe sepsis were almost four times more likely to experience significant depressive symptoms.
The study is thought to be the first in measuring depression levels among spouses of severe-sepsis survivors. The findings suggest that patients’ spouses may benefit from depression screening and stronger support not just when their loved one dies, but also when their loved one survives.
“We know that patients who survive sepsis face many new problems, but we know little about the emotional toll it takes on patients’ loved ones,” said senior author Theodore J. Iwashyna, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of internal medicine.
“Emotional distress may diminish spouses’ abilities to support patients in ongoing rehabilitation and act as surrogate decision-makers for them.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are hospitalized for severe sepsis each year, making it the most common non-cardiac critical illness. The condition puts an overwhelming burden on older spouses, Iwashyna notes.
“Depression in family members could affect end-of-life decisions in the ICU and impact a loved ones’ caretaking ability so interventions may improve the outcomes of patients themselves,” said lead author Dimitry S. Davydow, M.D, M.P.H., assistant professor of psychiatry.
“Providers must learn to assess the burden of follow- up care on patients’ spouses to help improve the health and quality of life for this growing population of older Americans.”
Although older wives showed significant risks for depression if their spouses were hospitalized for severe sepsis, data was less definitive for husbands in the same situation.
The researchers believe that these findings could be due to older men possibly being less likely to report depressive symptoms.
The study is published in the journal Critical Care Medicine.
Source: University of Michigan