Aged parents' experiences during a critical illness trajectory and after the death of an adult child: A review of the literature

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Given the growing life expectancy, the likelihood increases that health-care providers are confronted with older people having an adult child with a life-limiting disease.


This literature review aimed to (1) explore the experiences of aged parents with regard to their position and role as a parent of an adult child with a life-limiting illness, (2) detect gaps in the existing literature and (3) make recommendations for future research.


A literature search of English articles, including both quantitative and qualitative designs.

Data sources:

Four electronic databases and the reference lists of included studies.


In total, 19 studies (7 quantitative and 12 qualitative) were included. Few studies describe the experiences of older people whose adult child has cancer or has died of cancer. Existing studies are merely descriptive and give no concrete recommendations for health-care providers in daily practice. The studies suggest that aged parents carry deep burdens from the prospect of losing their adult child. Aged parents want to stay involved but need to reconfigure their parent role. As soon as the cancer diagnosis is disclosed, parents are confronted with a re-awakening of parental nurturing, which clashes with the autonomy of the adult child. Even after the adult child is deceased, older parents retain the image of themselves as parents.


There is a need for more in-depth research to understand the lived experience of these parents and what health-care providers can do to assist them.

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