Beyond patient vs. care partner health: Karen Lyons’ dyadic theory

Karen S. Lyons, Ph.D. Associate Professor, School of Nursing
Karen S. Lyons, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Nursing

The experience of human illness affects not only the patient, but family members and other care partners — that much we know. Investigations of patients and their care partners, or dyads, have brought insights into impacts of illness on the health and wellness of individual members of the care team, but little research has been conducted on the patient/care partner as a team.

How patients and their care partners manage illness together is an emerging area of inquiry. An article published Jan. 20, 2018, in The Journal of Family Nursing articulates a theory that integrates existing dyadic science with current understandings of illness management. In “The Theory of Dyadic Illness Management,” Karen S. Lyons, Ph.D., brings a perspective of illness management that focuses on the dyad as a team and on optimizing the health of the team itself, while simultaneously the health of each member is both considered and held in appropriate balance.

This theory breaks new ground in its explicit attention to the ways in which the dyad engages in illness management behaviors with the strong focus on optimizing the mental and physical health of the patient, care partner and the partnership itself. The theory is based on Lyons’ 18 years of empirical research on the topic, along with the research of her co-author, Christopher S. Lee, Ph.D., R.N., and colleagues and students with whom they have collaborated over time.

A focus on dyadic health recognizes the complexity of roles within dyads and does not hold the health of one member of the dyad as more important than the other. Instead, Lyons proposes greater focus on balancing health within dyads and that even patient- and care partner-specific outcomes must be viewed with a dyadic lens to understand fully the costs, rewards, and meaning associated with illness management.

Based on empirical findings, this theory may help provoke new lines of inquiry, shape the way interventions are designed and evaluated and lead to dyadic approaches within practice settings.


This post is based on the School of Nursing blog post “Karen Lyons, Ph.D.: Dyadic Theory published.”