The support needs of terminally ill people living alone at home: a narrative review

Health Psychol Behav Med. 2014 Jan 1;2(1):951-969. doi: 10.1080/21642850.2014.933342. Epub 2014 Sep 25.


Context: The number of terminally ill people who live alone at home and without a caregiver is growing and exerting pressure on the stretched resources of home-based palliative care services. Objectives: We aimed to highlight the unmet support needs of terminally ill people who live alone at home and have no primary caregiver and identify specific models of care that have been used to address these gaps. Methods: We conducted a narrative review of empirical research published in peer-reviewed journals in English using a systematic approach, searching databases 2002-2013. This review identified 547 abstracts as being potentially relevant. Of these, 95 were retrieved and assessed, with 37 studies finally reviewed. Results: Majority of the studies highlighted the reduced likelihood of this group to be cared for and die at home and the experiences of more psychosocial distress and more hospital admissions than people with a primary caregiver. Few studies reported on the development of models of care but showed that the challenges faced by this group may be mitigated by interventions tailored to meet their specific needs. Conclusion: This is the first review to highlight the growing challenges facing community palliative care services in supporting the increasing number of people living alone who require care. There is a need for more studies to examine the effectiveness of informal support networks and suitable models of care and to provide directions that will inform service planning for this growing and challenging group.

Keywords: home care; hospice; living alone; palliative care; place of death; social support.