Exploring community nurses' perceptions of life review in palliative care

Ian Trueman, Jonathan Parker
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2006, 15 (2): 197-207

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: This exploratory study aimed to identify community nurses' understanding of life review as a therapeutic intervention for younger people requiring palliative care. The objectives set out to: (i) Describe the participants' understanding of reminiscence and life review (ii) Detail their current ideas regarding a structured approach to using life review in the community setting. (iii) Outline their understanding of the possible advantages and limitations of life review in relation to palliative care. (iv) Identify future training requirements.

BACKGROUND: The literature review illustrated how the eighth developmental stage of Erikson's theory, ego-integrity vs. despair, is a 'crisis' often faced by older people entering the final stage of life. Life review is considered a useful therapeutic intervention in the resolution of this crisis. Younger terminally ill people in the palliative stage of an illness may face the same final crises due to their reduced lifespan. Therefore, this study explored the benefits and limitations of life review as an intervention in palliative care.

METHOD: The study used a purposive sample of community nurses responsible for delivering generic and specialist palliative care. A qualitative method of data collection in the form of three focus group interviews was used. Subsequent data were manually analysed, categorized and coded with associations between the themes identified.

RESULTS: The findings suggested that community nurses have limited knowledge pertaining to the use of life review and tend to confuse the intervention with reminiscence. Furthermore, they believed that life review could potentially cause harm to practitioners engaged in listening to another person's life story. However, the participants concur that with appropriate training they would find life review a useful intervention to use in palliative care.

CONCLUSIONS: The results led to the identification of a number of key recommendations: Community nurses require specific education in the technicalities of life review and additional interpersonal skills training. The need for formalized support through clinical supervision is also recognized and discussed. Finally, suggestions are offered regarding the need to generate wider evidence and how, possibly, to integrate life review into existing palliative care services.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: This study has demonstrated that community nurses are keen to extend the support offered to younger terminally ill people who are in the palliative stage of their illness. Despite having limited knowledge of life the main components and underpinning theory pertaining to life review participants could appreciate the potential of life review as a therapeutic intervention in palliative care and were keen to learn more about its use and gain the necessary knowledge and skills.

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