Physicians can help family members caring for dying loved ones

ips. In particular physicians must recognize that adult children frequently assume responsibilities for ill parents and may have to adjust the expectations within their own nuclear families, according to Rabow. He added that family members may find themselves re-acquainted with long-estranged relatives, which may also escalate emotions and strain relationships. Physicians can be helpful in recognizing and validating common feelings and helping family members identify necessary support services, said Rabow.

5) Pay special attention to grief and bereavement following death of a loved one. According to Rabow, grief worsens both physical and mental health and it has been associated with increased depression, insomnia, substance abuse, suicide and mortalilty in family members. He added that bereaved family members highly value a physician condolence telephone call, letter, or visit, as well as attendance at the patient's funeral and that this support may improve bereavement outcomes.

"Dame Cicely Saunders, a pioneer in the modern palliative care movement once said, 'How people die remains in the memories of those who live on,'" said Rabow.

"Given that observation, physicians have a special responsibility and a fundamental opportunity to support the profound experiences of family care giving."

Additional authors of these recommendations include Joshua Hauser, MD, from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and Jocelia Adams, RN, director of the Center for Caregiver Training in San Francisco.


Contact: Maureen McInaney
University of California - San Francisco

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