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Emotional Benefit for Involving Partner in Diabetes Intervention

Couples who participated in a diabetes intervention together had less distress than those who went at it alone, researchers said.

Compared with people who independently participated in a phone-based behavioral intervention, those with type 2 diabetes whose partners joined in on the program reported significantly less diabetes-related distress at month 12 (mean score of 1.78 vs 2.03 on the Diabetes Distress Scale, P=0.02), Paula M. Trief, PhD, of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and colleagues reported in Diabetic Medicine.

Diabetes distress was also lower for couples when compared with those in the third arm of the study, which included individuals who received diabetes educational phone calls rather than a behavioral intervention.

This type of social support also resulted in greater martial satisfaction at months 4 and 8 of the year-long intervention, Trief and co-authors noted.

These participants also showed slight improvements in diastolic blood pressure over the course of the trial — dropping from an average of 73.97 mm Hg at baseline down to 70.85 mm Hg after 12 months — which wasn’t seen in other arms of the study.

The extent of the benefit of having support didn’t extend much further, however, as there were no other significant medical benefits to having a spouse or partner joining in on the behavioral intervention.

The results were not particularly surprising, Trief told MedPage Today. “I was pleasantly surprised, however, that they also felt better about the relationship, because there’s often concern that if the partner is involved he or she will become ‘diabetes police,’ and that would make the relationship worse, so I was glad that it seemed to make the relationship better.”

In addition, she said, the group did predict that involvement would potentially lead the partner to change his or her own behavior, particularly in regards to weight loss, but this didn’t turn out to be the case. Similarly, there were no significant differences in terms of weight loss between any of the intervention groups.

“That could be because the intervention was aimed at the person with diabetes, and the partner’s involvement was also aimed at the person with diabetes, to help him or her with blood sugar control. But we think it means that if you want to see behavior change in the partner, you probably have to directly try to help them change their own behavior,” Trief explained.

The randomized controlled trial — called the Diabetes Support Project — included nearly 300 individuals and their partners, defined as being in a committed relationship for at least a year. The individuals with type 2 diabetes had an HbA1c of 7.5% or higher at the beginning of the study. All couples and individuals received two calls on diabetes education, while only two groups received 10 additional behavioral intervention calls, which was centered on the social learning theory.

The bottom line, Trief said: “Don’t be afraid of involving partners; they can be real supports for patients, and the relationship won’t suffer — it may even get better.”

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Trief reported having no conflicts of interest; two coauthors reported various financial relationships with industry, including Elli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, Abbott Diabetes Care, Medtronic, Mylan GmbH Inc., Kowa Research Institute, and Helmsley Charitable Trust/ JDRF/JAEB Center for Health Research.