Living, loving and letting go-navigating the relational within palliative care of older people in long-term care facilities: An action research study

Int J Older People Nurs. 2022 Mar;17(2):e12424. doi: 10.1111/opn.12424. Epub 2021 Sep 26.


Background: Long term care facilities are important environments for the delivery of palliative care, which includes end of life care. Despite this, staff may feel this care focus is separate to their roles. Consequently, this study explores and makes visible how palliative care is understood in long term residential care facilities for older people. It focuses on how relationships with residents and families are experienced by nurses and health care assistants and how this influences the introduction and provision of palliative care to older people in long term care facilities.

Objectives: To develop an understanding of what palliative care means to staff caring for older people in residential care.

Methods: A co-operative inquiry action research approach was used. A total of 18 healthcare assistants and 16 registered nurses in two older person long term care facilities participated in co-operative inquiry groups. Co-inquirers reflected on deaths that occurred over a 6-month period and generated narratives on their relationships in the context of palliative care.

Results: Three themes were identified to describe relationships which were immersed in an ethos of person-centred care. These were living, loving and letting go. Living rather than dying was the predominant focus of care. Loving described deep engagement with older people and families while letting go navigated the dying process.

Conclusions: Staff in nursing homes experience deep attachments to residents when delivering palliative care and end of life care. There is a need to understand these relationships and how they impact on the understanding and integration of palliative care in older person residential care as well as acknowledging and addressing staff's grief processes to enhance resilience.

Keywords: action research; end of life care; long-term care facilities; older people; palliative care; person-centred care.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care
  • Nursing Homes
  • Palliative Care*
  • Terminal Care*