Family Support Important When Living with Chronic Illness

New research finds that a family approach helps a loved one learn to live with their chronic illness in the most productive manner possible.

Penn State researchers discovered family intervention approaches such as working together to make dietary changes can be an effective strategy for improving chronic illness management.

“For some family groups, setting goals together for making lifestyle changes such as healthier eating habits and regular exercise, helps patients to stay on track and may benefit family members as well,” said Dr. Lynn Martire, a professor of human development and family studies.

Martire said this approach could have positive implications on health care costs as well as the treatment of patients.

“The vast majority of health care spending is for treatment of chronic health problems in children and adults. Self-management of chronic illness can reduce these health care costs, and close family members such as a parent or the spouse play an important role in helping patients to manage their illness,” Martire said.

“Therefore, psychological or behavioral treatments that target the patient-family member dyad may decrease health care costs or have more long-lasting effects than treatments that target only the patient.”

The paper, co-authored by Martire and Dr. Vicki Helgeson, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, appears in the journalĀ Current Directions in Psychological Science.

According to the authors, patients, and family members can work together to monitor patients’ illness symptoms, keep medical appointments, and help the patient stick to medication regimens as a strategy for chronic illness management.

“A key feature of these programs is improving communication around health issues and identifying obstacles to good self-management,” Martire said.

Emerging use of technology to maintain behavior change may also be a promising approach, Martire said. Some treatment programs require frequent travel on the part of patients and families, which limits their accessibility. Technology-supported approaches such as web- or mobile phone-based telehealth programs could reach a broader population of patients and family members.

Increasing internet usage across broad segments of the U.S. population offers an especially appealing method for delivering programs to large numbers of patients and families at low cost. Moreover, web-based interventions for health and illness management could be modified for dyads, she said.

Source: Penn State University