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Original Investigation
July 2015

Association Between Hospice Use and Depressive Symptoms in Surviving Spouses

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
  • 2Institute for Translational Epidemiology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
  • 3Geriatrics Research, Education, and Clinical Center, James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Bronx, New York
JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1138-1146. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1722
Abstract

Importance  Family caregivers of individuals with serious illness are at risk for depressive symptoms and depression. Hospice includes the provision of support services for family caregivers, yet evidence is limited regarding the effect of hospice use on depressive symptoms among surviving caregivers.

Objective  To determine the association between hospice use and depressive symptoms in surviving spouses.

Design, Setting, and Participants  We linked data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative longitudinal survey of community-dwelling US adults 50 years or older, to Medicare claims. Participants included a propensity score–matched sample of 1016 Health and Retirement Study decedents with at least 1 serious illness and their surviving spouses interviewed between August 2002 and May 2011. We compared the spouses of individuals enrolled in hospice with the spouses of individuals who did not use hospice, performing our analysis between January 30, 2014, and January 16, 2015.

Exposures  Hospice enrollment for at least 3 days in the year before death.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Spousal depressive symptom scores measured 0 to 2 years after death with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, which is scored from 0 (no symptoms) to 8 (severe symptoms).

Results  Of the 1016 decedents in the matched sample, 305 patients (30.0%) used hospice services for 3 or more days in the year before death. Of the 1016 spouses, 51.9% had more depressive symptoms over time (mean [SD] change, 2.56 [1.65]), with no significant difference related to hospice use. A minority (28.2%) of spouses of hospice users had improved Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale scores compared with 21.7% of spouses of decedents who did not use hospice, although the difference was not statistically significant (P = .06). Among the 662 spouses who were the primary caregivers, 27.3% of spouses of hospice users had improved Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale scores compared with 20.7% of spouses of decedents who did not use hospice; the difference was not statistically significant (P = .10). In multivariate analysis, the odds ratio for the association of hospice enrollment with improved depressive symptoms after the spouse’s death was 1.63 (95% CI, 1.00-2.65).

Conclusions and Relevance  After bereavement, depression symptoms increased overall for surviving spouses regardless of hospice use. A modest reduction in depressive symptoms was more likely among spouses of hospice users than among spouses of nonhospice users.

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