Address the emotional side of illness to treat the whole patient

If the caretaker of someone who’s recently had a stroke is optimistic, their attitude can lessen the patient’s depression, a condition that many stroke victims experience after their medical trauma.

Similarly, people undergoing treatment for cancer have a better sense of well-being when their stress, fatigue and other issues affecting their outlook are addressed as part of their medical care.

These and other findings on people who have undergone serious illnesses are the result of recent studies that are addressing the mental and emotional state of patients as well as their physical ailments.

Improved attitude after stroke
At the recent annual meeting of the American Heart Association, researchers from the University of Kentucky’s College of Nursing reported on their study of stroke victims and their caregivers. They followed the cases of 112 people who experienced depression after having a stroke.

When the caregivers had high self-esteem and a positive outlook, the stroke survivors were less likely to be depressed. As a result, the research team recommends that health providers address the depression issue with both stroke patients and their caregivers.

“We usually have been focused on the outcome of the stroke survivor, but we found that the self-esteem and optimism of the spouse caretaker is related to the patient’s depression,” study author Misook Chung, Ph.D., an associate profession at the Kentucky nursing college, told AHA members. “Intervention needs to be given not only to the patient but to the caregiver spouse to maximize the patient’s outcome.”

Good eating helps depression
Depression was also the central issue in a Taiwanese study that examined the effect of good eating habits among people suffering from dementia. A research team at the National Yang-Ming University in Taipei found that maintaining a nutritional diet not only improved the physical health of dementia patients but reduced their symptoms of depression.

The findings, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, focused on 63 patients who were given memory training to remember how to eat properly and 27 people whose dementia care did not include memory exercises. Over the course of six months, those who had memory training improved physically and experienced less depression.

Eating a balanced diet is a universal recommendation for everyday well-being and is particularly important for people who are physically depleted by illness. In addition to eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are known for their nutritional value, people can take dietary supplements such as Vital B-100 from Dr. Newton’s Naturals. Its combination of eight types of vitamin B and antioxidants have both neurological and bodily benefits that help relieve stress, boost cardiovascular function and maintain good cholesterol levels.

Coping strategies advised
Another study that focused on emotional and mental health was done by cancer-care specialists at the Mayo Clinic. A group of 113 patients with late-stage cancer were divided into two groups. Half were enrolled in sessions that provided exercises to improve their energy levels, including deep breathing techniques to relieve stress and other coping skills. The other patients continued their regular treatment and sought support from therapists, counselors and clergy of their own choosing.

The quality of life declined for those who did not receive extra help in developing coping strategies, while those in the support program had an improved outlook, according to the study findings, which were published in the journal Cancer.

“Much of the success may be that the program is active and engaged, and patients participated in the sessions as part of a group,” said Mayo Clinic psychologist Matthew Clark, Ph.D., who led the study.

However, Clark stressed that the patients’ quality of life didn’t necessarily extend beyond the few months following cancer treatment. He said that underlined the importance of having medical providers devise programs that address overall well-being for the long-term wellness of patients.