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Supporting families of dying patients: communication skills
  1. Elizabeth Taylor
  1. Elizabeth Taylor, at the time of writing, was working as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, St Christopher’s Hospice, London


An anticipated death is generally equated with a good death, providing the patient and family with the opportunity for both emotional and practical preparation. What can be underestimated or overlooked by staff is the emotional impact on carers/families that this period can generate and the burden placed upon them. This article examines some of the ways in which general nursing staff, in any environment, can support families at this difficult time. Particular emphasis is placed on the assessment of family members, who may be reluctant to share freely their concerns about their own requirements, the course of the patient’s illness and the inevitable death. The needs of family members should be assessed separately to those of the patient. Conversations with family members do not have to be ‘psychologically heavy’. A fictitious case scenario will illustrate how the themes of the article can practically be addressed by nurses. It will provide examples of what nurses can say to family members when responding to their distress. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Anticipated death
  • Anticipatory grief
  • Communication skills
  • Family support
  • Loss

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