Mutual caregiving: Living meaningfully as an older couple

Publication Date


UMMS Affiliation

Graduate School of Nursing

Document Type



Family, Life Course, and Society | Geriatric Nursing | Geriatrics | Health Services Administration


BACKGROUND: More older couples are living independently while managing chronic health conditions. Though research is replete in identifying the influence of spouse's behaviours on each other's health, there is little known of the specific factors underlying the older couples' relational processes to explain this dynamic. Knowledge development is needed to provide a grounding for interventions to address such influences to improve health and well-being.

AIM: The aim of this study was to advance the understanding of older couples' experiences of living with chronic health conditions to gain insights into the potential benefits of 'being a couple' to manage behavioural health and life adjustments.

METHOD: A hermeneutic-dialectic phenomenology design based on Newman's theory of Health as Expanding Consciousness was used. Fourteen older couples were jointly interviewed. The interviews were non-structured and designed to capture their experience as a couple.

RESULTS: Three themes emerged (a) living meaningfully through mutual caregiving, (b) a pattern of spousal movement facilitating change and (c) co-creating as an older couple to move forward.

CONCLUSION: The study supports reframing older couple's care as a 'dyad of care'. This approach provides an opportunity to leverage the couples' mutuality to support health management as a couple. A motivation to action process between the spouses appeared to enable mutual caregiving, a reliance of each spouse on the another for identity, socialisation, health and daily living, which facilitated an evolving understanding of their lives and its meaning.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Mutual caregiving should be acknowledged as a significant relational dynamic within older couples, as a dyad of care, when managing health and well-being.


health as expanding consciousness, health management, hermeneutic phenomenology, mutual caregiving, older couple

DOI of Published Version



Antonelli MT, Grace PJ, Boltz M. Mutual caregiving: Living meaningfully as an older couple. Int J Older People Nurs. 2020 Dec;15(4):e12340. doi: 10.1111/opn.12340. Epub 2020 Aug 19. PMID: 32815319. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

International journal of older people nursing

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID