Are family members of patients at an increased risk of heart attack?

Each year approximately 10 million hospitalisations occur in Australia*. Hospitalisation and its aftermath can be very stressful for family members of patients, particularly if the patient’s admission is unexpected.

While studies have identified increased anxiety, depression, anger and sleep disturbance among family members, little is known about the impact that this stress can have on our cardiovascular health.

Monica Rückholdt, one of our PhD scholarship recipients, is currently evaluating the effect of hospitalisation on family members’ psychological, behavioural and physiological cardiovascular risk factors. To date, Monica has recruited 33 of the desired 60 participants for the study.

Each participant’s psychological, behavioural and physiological health data is collected at three stages; during the patient’s admission, two weeks post-discharge and then again three months later. Data is collected through a combination of questionnaires, interviews and blood tests, as well as monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure and sleep.

Monica believes this study will demonstrate an “interconnectedness of health” between patients and their family, and will recognise that family members have a therapeutic impact on patients, something which is not often recognised in a traditional clinical setting.

*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Admitted patient care 2015– 16: Australian hospital statistics, May 2017