Death and dying in residential care: a matter of concern

Randall Smith (Professorial Research Fellow at School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)

Quality in Ageing and Older Adults

ISSN: 1471-7794

Publication date: 9 September 2013

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to trace the history of official policy on the regulation of care homes in respect of end of life care and to contrast this with the results of research on this important theme, not least in terms of what is required to support care home staff in relation to dying residents and their relatives. A central concern is to argue for the open recognition that care homes now cater primarily for frail people towards the end of their lives. Good end of life care and a good death could become a positive “selling point”. The author concludes that the system of regulation has broadly failed to address a good death or good end of life care in a residential home. Death talk should no longer need to be avoided in care homes. The research suggests that appropriate support for care home staff in relation to dying residents needs careful identification and investment. A cultural shift is required.

Design/methodology/approach

Following a review of policy documents on regulation and standards of care in residential homes and a subsequent review of the research literature on death and dying in care homes, the paper illuminates the contrast between the ambitious aims in policy documents with very varied practice in everyday care of frail residents.

Findings

The recent systems of regulation have broadly failed to address a good death or good end of life care in residential homes. Open acknowledgement of death and dying should not be avoided in care homes. Appropriate support for care home staff in relation to dying residents needs careful identification and investment.

Originality/value

The focus of this paper is to contrast official policy with everyday practice. Whilst policy documents suggest recognition of the importance of dignity and respect from dying residents, the research literature indicates great variation in the practice of everyday care.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author's research to which this paper refers was funded by the ESRC, grant reference: RES-00023-0995. The author wants to thank his colleague, Dr Liz Lloyd, for invaluable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The author also thanks for helpful comments from an anonymous reviewer.

Citation

Smith, R. (2013), "Death and dying in residential care: a matter of concern", Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 205-217. https://doi.org/10.1108/QAOA-01-2013-0001

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Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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