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Report of The Cancer Experiences Collaborative Older People Theme State of the Science Meeting
Understanding Older People’s Relationships Towards the End of Life
Dr Jane Frankland

Older people’s relationships towards the end of life were the focus of a recent one day seminar hosted by the Cancer Experiences Collaborative (CECo) Older People Research Group. The majority of older people’s care towards the end of life is undertaken within the home or community, and is shaped by relationships with family, friends and professional carers. The seminar explored theoretical ideas and empirical data regarding the nature of such relationships and their relevance to and implications for the provision of end of life care.

Three invited speakers explored older people’s relationships within different contexts. Professor Christina Victor (Brunel University) opened the conference by ‘unpicking’ loneliness and isolation among older people. She argued that there is little evidence for the stereotype of high levels of loneliness and isolation, instead showing that older people often have high levels of weekly social contact and that this is in an increasing variety of channels, such as phone and email. There is, however, a need for a longitudinal view to understanding social contact, and for targeted interventions to address loneliness.

Professor Jenny Hockey (Emeritus Professor, University of Sheffield) explored identity, values and spirituality among older adults. Identity and ontological security can be threatened by the effects of old age and there is a need for a life course perspective to understand and sustain personal identities.

Professor Mike Nolan (University of Sheffield) presented the ‘Senses Framework’ for enriching relationships within the care home setting. The framework puts relationships between patients, family and staff at the centre of care, to create a community which provides a sense of belonging, significance, security and continuity for all involved.

The presentations from the key speakers were complemented by presentations on current or recently completed research projects: Dr Kathy Almack (University of Nottingham) gave a paper on social networks of lesbian, gay and bisexual elders and impact on end of life care; Dr Jane Fleming (University of Cambridge) presented on experiences and perceptions of informal care arrangements of over 95 year olds; and Nic Hughes (University of Leeds) talked about his project on obligations of kinship among older people with cancer.

The seminar clearly highlighted the complex relationship centred nature of care and the need to take a long term, life course perspective both to understanding older people’s relationships and in furthering them within the context of care towards the end of life.

The Cancer Experiences Collaborative is a National Cancer Research Institute funded collaboration of five Universities, (Southampton; Nottingham; Liverpool; Lancaster and Manchester), the aim of which is to increase the quality and quantity of supportive and palliative care research in the UK. The Older People Theme is led by Professor Jane Seymour (University of Nottingham) and Dr Katherine Froggatt (University of Lancaster). Work of the theme has concentrated on older people’s priorities for end of life care, on processes of care decision making and on places of end of life care. CECo also encompasses two other research streams: Innovative Approaches to Complex Symptoms and Methodology.

Further information about CECo and the Older People Research Theme can be viewed at www.ceco.org.uk.

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