Own and partner pain intensity in older couples: longitudinal effects on depressive symptoms

Chronic pain has been linked to depression among individuals and their partners. Yet little is known about long-term mutual influences between pain intensity and depressive symptoms within couples as they age. Utilizing a nationally representative US sample of wives and husbands aged 50 and older (M = 64.45, SD = 7.85), this study explored the links between own and partner pain intensity and depressive symptoms across an 8-year period. A total of 940 heterosexual married couples drawn from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) completed interviews biennially from 2006 to 2014. Dyadic growth curve models examined mutual associations within couples and controlled for sociodemographic characteristics, length of marriage, and marital quality, along with self-rated health, number of chronic health conditions, and functional disability. For wives and husbands, their own greater baseline pain intensity was significantly linked to their own higher overall levels of depressive symptoms. Unexpectedly, wives with greater baseline pain intensity reported decreases in their depressive symptoms over time. There were also partner effects such that husbands' greater pain intensity at baseline was associated with increases in wives' depressive symptoms over time. Findings highlight the importance of considering both individual and spousal associations between pain intensity and depressive symptoms in later life. Understanding how individual and couple processes unfold may yield critical insights for the development of intervention and prevention efforts to maintain mental health among older chronic pain patients and their spouses.