Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Debra K. Moser


Background: Heart failure (HF) is a leading cause of hospitalization, readmissions, and death in the United States. Patients hospitalized for HF are at risk for readmission, in- hospital mortality, and early post-discharge death. In the United States, inpatient care has been estimated to cost $83,980 over the lifetime of each patient with HF. The majority of patients with HF depend on caregiver support for successful HF self-care, which is essential for optimal patient outcomes. Support from caregivers is thought to be important for better self-care, and lower readmission and mortality rates. Yet, there are few studies considering the influence of caregivers on HF patient self-care, readmission, and mortality.

Objective: The purpose of my dissertation was to determine the influence of HF caregivers on patient self-care, readmission, and mortality. The specific aims of this dissertation were to: (1) to determine if caregiver depressive symptoms mediate the relationship between family functioning and caregiver quality of life, (2) to determine if there is an association between living arrangements (living with someone vs. living alone) and all-cause readmission and death in patients with HF, and (3) to determine the efficacy of an in-hospital, multi-session, educational intervention for caregivers on heart failure patients’ self-care and 30 day readmission rate, and to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention on caregivers’ knowledge, self-efficacy and perceived control.

Methods: Specific aim one was addressed by a secondary analysis of data from one- hundred and forty-three HF caregivers recruited from an outpatient clinic. Multiple regression with mediation analysis was used to determine whether depressive symptoms mediated the relationship between family functioning as measured using the three scales of the Family Assessment Device (i.e., general, problem-solving, communication) and caregiver quality of life. Specific aim two was addressed by a retrospective chart review of all 398 patients with a primary diagnosis of HF admitted to an academic medical center in one year. We collected data on patient sociodemographic, clinical characteristics, and patient living condition. The independent association of living alone with all-cause readmission or all-cause death was evaluated using Cox proportional hazards modeling adjusting for covariates. Specific aim three was addressed using a two-group (educational intervention for caregivers of patients with heart failure vs. usual educational care), prospective, repeated measures randomized controlled trial of 37 patient and caregiver dyads in which caregivers only received in-hospital HF education. Outcome measures included patient self-care, and patient all-cause readmission or all- cause death, as well as caregiver self-efficacy, knowledge, and perceived control. Patient self-care, and caregiver self-efficacy, knowledge, and perceived control were assessed at baseline (in hospital), at discharge, 7 and 30-days after patient discharge. Patient readmissions and death were assessed by a phone call at 30-days follow-up. The intervention directed only at caregivers consisted of three in-hospital, educational sessions with telephone follow-up. The educational sessions were designed to deliver HF information and skills to caregivers, thereby providing them with the resources needed to improve their self-efficacy, perceived control and HF knowledge thus improving patient self-care and readmission rates.

Results: Specific aim one: The three subscales of the Family Assessment Device predicted depressive symptoms (p < 0.001) and caregiver quality of life (p < 0.001). Depressive symptoms also predicting caregiver quality of life (p < 0.001). The inclusion of depressive symptoms in the final model with each subscale of the Family Assessment Device (i.e., general family functioning, problem-solving, communication) decreased the significance of family functioning as a predictor of caregiver quality of life indicating mediation by depressive symptoms. Specific aim two: Heart failure patients living with someone experienced a significantly longer time to rehospitalization than those living alone (290 vs. 201 days, p=0.005). In a Cox regression hazard regression model, adjusting for covariates, patients who lived alone were 1.42 times more likely to be rehospitalized one year after discharge than those who lived with someone (p=0.013). The relationship between living alone and all-cause death was not significant after adjustment for covariates. Specific aim three: A linear mixed-model analysis revealed that patients whose caregiver was in the intervention group had significantly better self- care maintenance (p < 0.001) and self-care management (p < 0.001) across time. Cox survival analysis demonstrated that patients whose caregiver did not receive the educational intervention were 11 times more likely (p=0.002) to experience cardiac readmission than patients whose caregiver did receive the educational intervention. Caregivers who received the educational intervention had higher perceived control (p < 0.001) for up to 30-days post-intervention versus the control group, however, there were no differences between caregiver groups in self-efficacy and HF knowledge.

Conclusion: In this dissertation, we found caregivers to play an important part in improving patient outcomes of self-care and readmission after discharge from a hospitalization for HF. Future large-scale studies are needed to develop and test interventions focused on caregivers to improve both patient and caregiver outcomes. Such studies will assist clinicians in understanding how better to support caregivers in their ability to positively influence HF self-care and readmission rates in patients with HF.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

1600.00 from Sigma Theta Tau

Available for download on Friday, September 24, 2021

Included in

Nursing Commons