New Study Evaluates Quality of Life of Organ Transplant Patients and Spouses

Spouses are often the primary caregivers for ailing partners. As couples age, husbands and wives tend to be the sole caregiver of spouses with progressive mental health problems, such as dementia or other cognitive impairments. When physical health declines, spouses also assume the role of caregiver and take charge of nursing and caring for their loved one. Because of this, caregivers have been shown to have extremely high rates of psychological stress and overwhelm. Burnout is common among caregivers, and spouses caring for partners are vulnerable to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. But how do caregivers feel when their spouses receive the gift of life and healing? Specifically, how does a spouse feel when his or her partner receives a life-saving organ transplant? Although they may still be physically impaired for a period of time, there is hope for a better future, and this outlook may influence the quality of life and mental health of the patient and the spouse.

Lutz Goetzmann of the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at Segeberger Clinic in Germany was curious to see if organ transplant recipients and their spouses would experience increases in quality of life and relationship satisfaction as a result of the transplant. Goetzmann surveyed 121 organ transplant patients and their spouses after their surgeries and asked them about their level of life satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, burnout, and overall quality of life. The results revealed that the patients had different ratings than their spouses. Goetzmann said, “The only significant association with life satisfaction that emerged was the patients’ rating of the quality of the relationship: The higher the rating, the higher the patient’s life satisfaction.” Interestingly, the patients rated their relationship satisfaction higher than their spouses did. Goetzmann believes that this could be due to the patients’ feelings of being overly benefited in the relationship while the spouses feel under benefited. However, overall, the level of burnout was low and the levels of life satisfaction and quality of life were very high for all of the participants. These findings suggest that caregivers and patients facing a treatable condition may have a better psychological outlook than those dealing with chronic or progressive conditions.

Goetzmann, L., Scholz, U., Dux, R., Roellin, M., Boehler, A., Muellhaupt, B., et al. (2012). Life satisfaction and burnout among heart, lung, liver, and kidney transplant patients and their spouses. Swiss Journal of Psychology 71.3:125-134.

Related articles:
Taking Care of Yourself While Caring for a Loved One: Your Body
You Can Wait Too Long to Address the Problems in Your Marriage
Self-Care to Combat Anxiety

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  • Jason

    August 3rd, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    So the study revealed that if you survive what would be a life threatening disease and resume a normal life there is less stress on the patient although maybe the partner isn’t as positive. Interesting situation, what would the stats look like for terminally ill patients and for those that have passed suddenly?

  • AMY P

    August 3rd, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    More than the care giving and doing the work,the very sight of your partner suffering from a health problem right in front of your eyes must be the reason for depression and burnout.Never a pleasant sight.Now if a loved one or partner receives an organ transplant the chances of recovery dramatically increase and I can definitely see why life satisfaction increases along with that.

  • jeremy

    August 4th, 2012 at 8:41 PM

    organ transplants have made things possible that we could never have imagined a few decades brings in a new ray of hope for the patients and their loved ones and it will certainly spruce up the patient’s partner without a doubt..

  • Jeremy

    August 5th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Imagine how it must feel to watch your spouse continually deal with a life threatening illness,and then to be given a second chance at life. That must be a wonderful feeling, but you must also feel like this might go on, like you are afraid of getting your hopes up because this may or may not be the answer that you and the doctors have been searching for. What if the body rejects the organ or what if your spouse can’t handle the pressure of the surgery and still dies? I can see how a lot of spouses in that kind of case would try to be cautious, whereas the patien t will tend to be a lot more thankful for the chance to continue with a longer life.

  • Ken

    August 5th, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    As much as I wish for the betterment of all those going through such crises in their lives,I think the improvement that is reported after an organ transplant is mainly because of all the chaos that comes with looking for a donor before the transplant.So obviously there will be an improvement in life quality and a general feeling of goodness when the search comes to an end and the transplant actually takes place.

  • lana

    August 6th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    If you have been given a diagnosis for something that is treatable, then there is still some hope, still something to hold onto. But given a diagnosis for a chronic disease, or a disease for which there is no cure, it has to be very hard to watch a loved one go through that. You want the very best for the patient, but at the same time, there are so many ups and downs that it’s tough to go through that.

  • SallieM

    August 6th, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    If me or my partner is given another shot at life, then what on earth do I have to be sad or angry about? I mean, you are getting your life back, to h*** with all of the other stuff you have been dealing with! If this is someone important to you, or if it is happening to you but you get the chance to get a new organ and really live again, how can you even complain about the road you have had to take to get there? Maybe this is the wake up call that you need to live life fully again, to see that all that other stuff, it doesn’t matter, but what matters is the fact that you will get to enjoy life again.

  • gladys

    August 7th, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    When my husband had his heart transplant, I guess I went through a pretty selfish phase. I felt like no one was giving me any care or support, and after all I had done for him and stood by him I felt that I deserved that. I wish that the hospital could have helped me handle things a little differently because it is such a game changer when you ahve kind of decided that there is no hope and you resign yourself to that and then all of a sudden there is new hope, and you kind of don’t know how to handle that. They offered counseling for my husband but never for me and that was something that I wish I could have had because I think that I would have handled everything a little differently had I felt that I had more of a support system with the doctors and educators there.

  • Karen martin

    September 9th, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    Gladys I am having a hard time adjusting to my heart transplanted husband he received a heart on July 4 2012 I am not sure what to do so confused and melt down at least three times a week I may even want out of it all with him any thoughts?

  • james krupa

    October 3rd, 2012 at 1:40 AM

    Karen, please e-mail me in private. I had a heart transplant also, and never at any moment did I disregard my wife, her actions, her care for me and I ALWAYS made her part of my healing process. She had a tough job to do, especially for the first year [and she worked too]. She is my hero. I compliment her to everyone about how she helped save my life and I guarantee you, she is the important one, NOT ME! We were both widowers when we met and still live apart, but I bought a home just down the street from hers. She still has her daughter and 4 children living with her. Another story, that is! Karen, you should not be feeling the way you do. Please be more exact. I, a stranger, care about you. I know what you went thru. I live in Lakewood, CA My e-mail is Jim Krupa jkrupa @ ca.rr. com Please contact me, be open, we’ll work this out. Your husband has a new life and by golly, you should too! Sincerely, Jim Krupa

  • james krupa

    October 3rd, 2012 at 1:52 AM

    Whoops, I addressed this to Karen, instead of actually reading the top question. However, ANYONE may contact me! Having a heart transplant is an emotional experience, and life goes on, and that’s when caregivers should be well taken care of too. None of us recipients could have gotten thru it ALONE. Payback to the caregiver should be a DAILY occurrence. Isn’t that only one reason why we got a second chance?? Life is beautiful, despite ongoing problems and I’d be HONORED to talk to any caregiver/spouse about how to cope and not feel left out, if that’s the case. Please contact me, I urge you. Jim Krupa jkrupa @ ca.rr. com

  • ruth p

    August 9th, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    There is so much pressure placed on caregivers and rarely do they get back that kind of care in return.
    However I don’t think that most of them are looking for something in return
    They just want to see their spouse or relative get better and have the chance to receive an organ that could prolong their lives.
    Since there is never any true way to tell these people just how grateful for them that you are, if you are receiving the services of someone wonderful like this in your life, just take a little time out to show them how appreciated they are.
    I can promise you that many times those few little words can make a huge difference in how they feel about themselves and the good that they are doing.

  • Karen

    September 9th, 2012 at 4:43 PM

    I just reread my earlier comment I am so selfish just completely overwhelmed with it all I have made an appointment with a counselor. Getting back to some normal things in life will make all the difference. I have lived so scared for more than three years that I don’t know how not to be so completely frightened. All. The. Time. He did have a possible rejection two weeks ago that left us reeling. Life is not all like regular people yet. Hopefully we will get there. Life is still very scary.

  • JaMya

    August 9th, 2018 at 5:14 PM

    My husband had a stroke and a heart transplant.Its been three yes.I have tried everything to be there for him .I feel I have been extra supportive.Ive done everything.ive planned trips.its like he doesn’t appreciate anything.He doesn’t even do anything for me.Im just tired of

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