Bereavement care for older people in healthcare settings: qualitative study of experiences

Int J Older People Nurs. 2013 Dec;8(4):279-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-3743.2012.00319.x. Epub 2012 Feb 7.


Aim: This study aimed to explore the experiences of healthcare staff of caring for bereaved older people, and older people's experiences of bereavement care.

Background: Loss through death of close family members, partners and friends inhibits the physical, emotional and social well being of older people. The rising population of older people and pressure on healthcare services to reduce costs indicate the necessity of developing strategies that enable coping and independence.

Design: A qualitative design drawing on phenomenological methodology was used to understand interactions between healthcare staff and bereaved older people. The study was set in hospital wards, general practice and community nursing teams, and care homes. Healthcare staff and a sample of recently bereaved older people participated.

Methods: Purposive sampling took place to recruit staff with a range of roles, and older people who were 65 years of age or more, and bereaved of a family member or friend for between 6 months and 5 years. Participants took part in in-depth interviews, and data were analysed systematically.

Results: Thirty-nine participants were recruited, and three key themes arose from the data: (i) Bereavement care depends on an established relationship between healthcare staff and the patient's relatives; (ii) Preparation for the relative's death may not equate to being prepared for bereavement; (iii) The 'Open Door' to bereavement care is only slightly ajar.

Conclusions: The study identified the interactions of healthcare staff with bereaved older people in terms of the bereavement journey. Staff demonstrated awareness of difficulties the bereaved person may encounter and showed commitment to providing support. However, lack of flexibility in services restricts meaningful interactions.

Implications for practice: (i) Healthcare staff may identify gaps in services in terms of preparing relatives and follow-up post-bereavement; (ii) Therapeutic relationships between staff and relatives enable ongoing support; (iii) Development of practice guidelines is a key consideration.

Keywords: bereavement; healthcare settings; older people; qualitative research; support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Bereavement*
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Geriatric Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Nursing
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Staff / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Support*