Communication and support from health-care professionals to families, with dependent children, following the diagnosis of parental life-limiting illness: A systematic review

Fearnley, R. & Boland, J. W. Palliative Medicine. Published online: 6 July 2016

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Image source: PMJ

Background: Communication between parents and their children about parental life-limiting illness is stressful. Parents want support from health-care professionals; however, the extent of this support is not known. Awareness of family’s needs would help ensure appropriate support.

Aim: To find the current literature exploring (1) how parents with a life-limiting illness, who have dependent children, perceive health-care professionals’ communication with them about the illness, diagnosis and treatments, including how social, practical and emotional support is offered to them and (2) how this contributes to the parents’ feelings of supporting their children.

Design: A systematic literature review and narrative synthesis.

Data sources: Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL and ASSIA ProQuest were searched in November 2015 for studies assessing communication between health-care professionals and parents about how to talk with their children about the parent’s illness.

Results: There were 1342 records identified, five qualitative studies met the inclusion criteria (55 ill parents, 11 spouses/carers, 26 children and 16 health-care professionals). Parents wanted information from health-care professionals about how to talk to their children about the illness; this was not routinely offered. Children also want to talk with a health-care professional about their parents’ illness. Health-care professionals are concerned that conversations with parents and their children will be too difficult and time-consuming.

Conclusion: Parents with a life-limiting illness want support from their health-care professionals about how to communicate with their children about the illness. Their children look to health-care professionals for information about their parent’s illness. Health-care professionals, have an important role but appear reluctant to address these concerns because of fears of insufficient time and expertise.

Read the abstract here

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