The role of the spouse in pain and disease course among persons with rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an incurable autoimmune disease that affects approximately one in 100 Canadians. It is associated with a variety of distressing and debilitating symptoms including chronic pain, stiffness and inflammation of the joints, fatigue, and frequent mood changes. As a result of their disease and related distress, persons with RA (PWRA) typically experience a wide range of daily stressors, such as difficulties performing household chores, impaired ability to work or hold a job, difficulties engaging in leisure or social activities, and interpersonal tensions resulting from added burdens for friends and family members. Although biomedical factors prompt the initial pain symptoms, psychological and social factors appear to play a significant role in the severity and course of the disease over time. For example, social support from family and friends and effective coping strategies may help to decrease pain and increase functional ability of PWRA. A relatively unexplored component of this phenomenon is the role of the spouse, who is most often the primary caregiver for PWRA . Mark Lam is investigating the relationship between the well-being and mood of the spouse and the level of support they provide to the RA patient. He seeks to answer the impact of spousal support on the RA patient’s well-being and symptoms and course of their disease. Findings regarding the role of the spouse and the social support they provide will help inform families, friends, and health care providers as to the most beneficial ways in which to respond to patients suffering from RA, helping them cope more effectively with their pain and disability.