Family caregivers' experience of communication with nursing home staff from admission to end of life during the COVID-19 pandemic: A qualitative study employing a transitional perspective

Palliat Support Care. 2023 Feb 27:1-12. doi: 10.1017/S1478951523000019. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Family caregivers' (FCs) caregiving in nursing home (NH) moves across 3 main phases: transitioning relatives to long-term care, worsening of a relative's conditions, and end of life; each phase brings specific challenges that FCs must confront. Moreover, during the COVID-19 pandemic, strict mandatory visitor restrictions affected communication modalities. This study explored FCs' experience of communication with NH staff during the COVID-19 pandemic from admission to end of life.

Methods: A descriptive qualitative study with inductive content analysis was performed in 7 Italian NHs from May to June 2021. NH managers purposively identified 25 FCs at different phases of their caregiving trajectory: transitional (i.e., admission in the previous 8 weeks, n = 8), deterioration-in-condition (i.e., acknowledged changes in care needs of their relative after trigger events, n = 10), and end-of-life phase (i.e., death expected in the next weeks or a few months, n = 7), who were interviewed.

Results: Regardless the phase of caregiving trajectory, what mattered most to FCs was the opportunity to have regular and sensitive discussions with health-care professionals. The need of in-person communication increased nearing death. The COVID-19 pandemic enhanced FCs' need to interact with health-care professionals they trusted. Knowledge of residents' preferences mitigated FCs' turbulent emotions throughout the overall caregiving trajectory.

Significance of results: Findings suggest that in-person contacts should be prioritized and facilitated when possible, particularly at the end of life; nonetheless, meaningful communication can occur also through remote modalities. Investments in training health-care professionals about effective long-distance communication and supportive skills can help trusting relationships to be established. Open discussions about residents' care preferences should be encouraged.

Keywords: Care transitions; Communication; Family caregivers; Nursing homes; Qualitative research.