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

Jeff Hanna, Eilis McCaughan, Cherith Semple

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster

Abstract

Background: When a parent of dependent children is at end of life, this is a stressful period for the whole family. Parents are often uncertain if, and how to, support their dependent children. Many parents feel it is protecting their children by not openly sharing the prognosis with them. Children less prepared for the death of a parent, from a terminal illness, can be more susceptive to negative adversities. There is a need to understand the experiences and challenges of families to inform and target future support services.
Aim: To synthesise current 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.
Methods: A mixed-methods systematic review. MeSH terms and word searches were applied to four electronic databases, in October 2018.
Results: 27 qualitative studies met the inclusion criteria. The results are categorised in two broad themes: (1) barriers and facilitators in sharing the news that a parent is dying and (2) strategies to manage the changing situation.
Barriers for parents in sharing their prognosis with the children included denial, lack of emotional strength and having an unclear understanding of prognosis and children’s early cognitive development. Although challenging, maintaining normality and routine, maximising social net-works, quality contact and open communication were identified as supportive coping mechanisms for both parents and children when a parent is at end of life.
Conclusion: The findings suggest health professionals need to provide parents with clearer indications, where and when possible, when prognosis is poor and death is imminent, so parents can appropriately prepare their dependent children. Findings are limited to white, middle-class two parent families attending support groups. Additional research is required to identify the challenges and needs of parents and children to ensure appropriate support is provided.

Funding: This research was funded by the UK Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) awarded to the lead author to undertake this research as part of his PhD.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 31 Jan 2020
Event11th World Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care: 11th World Congress of the EAPC - Virtual
Duration: 16 Oct 202019 Oct 2020

Conference

Conference11th World Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care
Period16/10/2019/10/20

Keywords

  • Parental cancer
  • systematic review
  • end of life

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