Background: The need to support carers of stroke survivors is widely recognised. However, research on which to base recommendations is scarce. Little research has focused on carers of stroke survivors with aphasia, and that which exists suffers from problems with sample size and methodology. More information is needed about methods used by carers to manage communication difficulties and about coping strategies that promote emotional wellbeing.
Aims: To assess the coping strategies used by informal carers of stroke survivors with aphasia to manage communication problems, and their association with depressive symptoms. To assess whether a problem-specific coping inventory offers an advantage over a generic coping questionnaire for this purpose.
Methods & Procedures: Questionnaires were completed by 150 informal caregivers of stroke survivors with aphasia. The Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale measured depressive symptoms. Coping was assessed with the Brief COPE and a problem-specific questionnaire on coping with communication difficulties. Level of social support was also assessed. Multiple regression analysis explored associations between coping and depressive symptoms. Mediation analysis assessed the significance of the indirect effect of coping between the level of communication impairment in the stroke survivor and the degree of depressive symptoms in the carer.
Outcomes & Results: Participants reported a wide range of coping strategies. Avoidant styles of coping were associated with increased depressive symptomatology. Coping by use of positive reframing was linked with fewer symptoms of depression. Anticipated level of social support was also associated with less depressive symptomology. The level of communication impairment of the stroke survivor was not predictive of depressive symptoms in carers after controlling for coping and social support. Limited support was found for a mediating model of coping. Inclusion of one subscale from the problem-specific questionnaire improved the amount of variance accounted for in depressive symptoms, above that explained by the Brief COPE.
Conclusions: The results verify that the impairment of the stroke survivor has less effect on carers' psychosocial functioning compared to coping. Assessment of coping can help to identify carers presenting with increased risk of depression. A traditional coping inventory provides an adequate assessment of the coping strategies used to manage communication problems, and can be supplemented by specific questions about avoidance. Interventions that develop some emotion-focused coping strategies in carers may support adaptation. Interventions should also aim to decrease the use of unhelpful coping strategies rather than solely focusing on increasing problem-focused forms of coping.