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Researchers seek to help heart patients overcome hopelessness

Woman alone on park bench
Susan Dunn

Researchers at the UIC College of Nursing have received a grant that will allow them to study how to improve care for heart disease patients struggling with hopelessness.

UIC Nursing announced the $2.4 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health to advance  “Heart Up!,” a program aimed at motivating heart disease patients to be more physically active.

Hopelessness is a negative outlook and offers a sense of helplessness toward the future. It can be a temporary response to an event or a habitual outlook. Hopelessness is associated with decreased physical functioning and lower physical activity levels in individuals with heart disease.

Researchers have been trying to understand the links between hopelessness and physical activity, as well as mortality and morbidity for patients with heart disease.

Low levels of physical activity independently contribute to increased death and adverse events in patients with heart disease, according to UIC researchers. Rates of physical activity in heart disease patients continue to be unacceptably low in both hospital-based cardiac rehabilitation and home settings. Hopelessness frequently compounds this issue.

While research has investigated strategies to increase physical activity among heart disease patients in general, UIC is the only group to design an intervention to promote physical activity specifically in hopeless heart disease patients, said Susan Dunn, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate professor of nursing and the study’s principal investigator.

“This innovative study has the potential to advance science, improve patient care and improve patient outcomes,” she said.

Dunn and her team will enroll 225 hopeless heart disease patients in a controlled randomized trial. They will evaluate the impact of an intervention that includes a motivational interviewing session with a nurse followed by six weeks of motivational social support text messages from the nurse and the patients’ significant other (could be spouse/partner, family member, friend). The intervention is designed to promote increased physical activity and decreased hopelessness in patients.

The findings from this study could transform care for heart disease patients who are hopeless by promoting self-management of important physical activity goals that can contribute to better health outcomes, the researchers said.

The nearly four-and-a-half year project is funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award number R01NR017649. Dunn is joined by co-investigators Holli DeVon, PhD ’02, MS ’82, RN, FAHA, FAAN, Ulf Bronas, PhD, ATC, ATR, FSVM, FAHA, and Eileen Collins, PhD, RN, FAACVPR, FAAN, ATSF, from the UIC College of Nursing.