How should we talk about palliative care, death and dying? A qualitative study exploring perspectives from caregivers of people with advanced cancer

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Abstract

Background:

Health professionals commonly underestimate caregiver needs for information about palliative care, death and dying and may feel poorly prepared to discuss these issues. Few studies have sought caregiver perspectives of these communication practices.

Aim:

To explore caregiver perspectives on communication about death, dying and the introduction to palliative care, with a view towards a series of caregiver-informed recommendations for use in clinical practice.

Design:

Cross-sectional, prospective, exploratory qualitative design, involving narrative-style interviews and underpinned by an interpretative phenomenological framework.

Setting/participants:

Purposively sampled, English-speaking, adult caregivers of people with advanced cancer (n = 25) recruited from cancer services at a tertiary metropolitan hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

Results:

Caregivers reported wanting routinely available written resources about palliative care, supplemented by conversations that are ideally staged overtime. Education about the tasks of palliative care should be separated from referral process, allowing time for gradual adjustment, and re-visiting discussion to enable patients and families to take some control in the process of transition. Once death is imminent, carers wanted health professionals to clarify how much they want to know about the dying process; provide spoken acknowledgement when death is close; include the words ‘death’ and ‘dying’; use direct language, avoiding euphemisms; and communicate about death with patient present.

Conclusion:

This study is among the first to directly address caregiver perspectives of communication about death, dying and the introduction to palliative care. The recommendations derived from caregiver perspectives build upon existing guidelines and offer health professionals some preliminary considerations around how to undertake these important communication tasks in future.

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