Background: Multiple chronic conditions may erode physical functioning, particularly in the context of complex self-management demands and depressive symptoms. Yet, little is known about how discordant conditions (i.e., those with management requirements that are not directly related and increase care complexity) among couples are linked to functional disability.
Purpose: We evaluated own and partner individual-level discordant conditions (i.e., discordant conditions within individuals) and couple-level discordant conditions (i.e., discordant conditions between spouses), and their links to levels of and change in functional disability.
Methods: The U.S. sample included 3,991 couples drawn from nine waves (1998-2014) of the Health and Retirement Study. Dyadic growth curve models determined how individual-level and couple-level discordant conditions were linked to functional disability over time, and whether depressive symptoms moderated these links. Models controlled for age, minority status, education, each partner's baseline depressive symptoms, and each partner's number of chronic conditions across waves.
Results: Wives and husbands had higher initial disability when they had their own discordant conditions and when there were couple-level discordant conditions. Husbands also reported higher initial disability when wives had discordant conditions. Wives had a slower rate of increase in disability when there were couple-level discordant conditions. Depressive symptoms moderated links between disability and discordant conditions at the individual and couple levels.
Conclusions: Discordant chronic conditions within couples have enduring links to disability that partly vary by gender and depressive symptoms. These findings generate valuable information for interventions to maintain the well-being of couples managing complex health challenges.
Keywords: Chronic illness; Disability; Multimorbidity; Spouses.
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