Higher 'spirituality' linked to better quality of life for stroke survivors, caregivers

By American Heart Association News

kali9/E+, Getty Images
(kali9/E+, Getty Images)

Having a higher level of spirituality helps lessen depression in stroke survivors and their caregivers and boosts their quality of life, according to new research.

The study included data from 223 caregiver-stroke survivor pairs in Italy who completed questionnaires measuring spirituality, depression and quality of life between 2016 and 2018.

Survivors who scored above average on the spirituality questionnaire reported higher psychological quality of life even when their caregivers reported symptoms of depression. Caregivers with above-average spirituality scores reported better physical and psychological quality of life.

The research was published Tuesday in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

"Our study emphasizes the importance of viewing stroke survivors holistically, as a patient with symptoms and disabilities, and as an individual with emotional needs and part of an interdependent unit with their care partner," lead study author Gianluca Pucciarelli said in a news release. He is a research fellow at the University of Rome.

The World Health Organization defines spirituality as a person's perception of their life within the context of the culture and the society's value systems, and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns. Quality of life – its physical, psychological, social and environmental aspects – was measured using the WHO's 26-question survey.

Those who scored one standard deviation above average were considered to have "higher spirituality." Stroke survivors who scored below average on the spirituality questionnaire had lower quality of life overall, as did their caregivers with depression symptoms.

"In summary, when care partners feel depressed, something that is common for stroke caregivers, the survivor's spirituality made the difference in whether this was associated with better or worse quality of life. This demonstrates the important protective role of spirituality in illness, and why we must study it more," Pucciarelli said.

It's also why, he said, there should be greater awareness about the importance of spirituality among health professionals.

The predominant religion in Italy is Roman Catholicism, which could have affected the results. Also, the study included only stroke survivors with low-to-medium disabilities and no other major health issues, so the study's findings may not apply to survivors with more severe disabilities or other underlying illnesses.

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected].

American Heart Association News Stories

American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Statements, conclusions, accuracy and reliability of studies published in American Heart Association scientific journals or presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the American Heart Association’s official guidance, policies or positions.

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt from or reprint these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.

Other uses, including educational products or services sold for profit, must comply with the American Heart Association’s Copyright Permission Guidelines. See full terms of use. These stories may not be used to promote or endorse a commercial product or service.

HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.