Challenges and support needs of parents and children when a parent is at end of life: A systematic review

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Abstract

Background:
Preparing children for the death of a parent is challenging. Parents are often uncertain if and how to communicate and support their children. Many parents feel it is protecting their children by not telling them about the prognosis. Children less prepared for parental death from a terminal illness are more susceptive to later adversities. To facilitate coping and moderate for such adversities, there is a need to gain insight and understand the experience and challenges confronted by families.

Aim:
This review synthesised evidence on the experiences of parents and children when a parent is at end of life to discern their challenges, support needs and factors that facilitated good practice.

Design:
Mixed-methods systematic review.

Data sources:
Four electronic databases (CINAHL, PubMed, PsycINFO and Ovid MEDLINE) using MeSH terms and word searches in October 2018. Studies were not limited by year of publication, language or country. Grey literature searches were also completed on Google Scholar and OpenGrey.

Results:
In all, 7829 records were identified; 27 qualitative and 0 quantitative studies met the inclusion criteria. Eight descriptive themes were identified, further categorised into two broad themes: (1) barriers and facilitators in sharing the news that a parent is dying and (2) strategies to manage the changing situation.

Conclusion:
Lack of understanding in relation to the parent’s prognosis, denial and feeling ill-equipped were suggested as barriers for parents to share the news with their children. Engagement with social networks, including extended family relatives and peers, and maintaining routines such as attending school were suggested supportive by parents and children. Findings are limited primarily to White, middle-class two-parent families. A number of areas for future research are identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1017-1044
Number of pages28
JournalPalliative Medicine
Volume33
Issue number8
Early online date27 Jun 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Jun 2019

Keywords

  • Family
  • Children
  • parent
  • cancer
  • advanced cancer
  • End of life
  • end of life
  • children
  • parents

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