Caregiver anticipatory grief: phenomenology, assessment and clinical interventions

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Abstract

Purpose of review

This review aims to synthesize recent findings on anticipatory grief in caregivers, referring to its phenomenology, assessment and clinical interventions.

Recent findings

Recent literature illustrates the wide scope of the current use of the term anticipatory grief, reflecting caregivers’ experiences in different end-of-life trajectories. The anticipation of death is the distinctive aspect of anticipatory grief in the predeath grief continuum, encompassing several progressive losses, past and future. Recently developed assessment instruments capture key aspects of this experience, such as separation anxiety, anticipation of death and future absence of the person, denial and relational losses. Recent findings on prevalence of clinically significant predeath symptoms in caregivers range from 12.5 to 38.5%. Beyond personal and relational factors, difficult circumstances of end-of-life care significantly interfere in adjustment to anticipatory grief. Useful therapeutic interventions were identified, such as validation of grief feelings, increased coping and self-care, anticipation of future losses and reframing roles. However, rigorous interventional studies are needed to create guidelines and the manualization of specific therapeutic approaches to caregiver anticipatory grief.

Summary

Findings suggest that anticipatory grief dynamics in different end-of-life trajectories should be recognized and adequately assessed. Clinical interventions considered useful to support anticipatory grief caregivers are presented, but further research is needed to verify effectiveness.

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