The drive towards patient involvement in health services has been increasingly promoted. The World Health Organisation emphasizes the family's perspective in comprehensive care. Internationally there is an increased emphasis on what patients and their family tell about the hospital experiences. However, current literature does not adequately address the question of participation experiences among relatives of older hospitalized family members. There is a paucity of research with a generational perspective on relatives' opportunities to exert influence. The aim of the study was to explore relatives' experiences of opportunities to participate in decisions about the care and treatment of older hospitalized family members and whether there are different experiences of influence to the relatives' age.
This was an explorative study applying individual qualitative interviews. The interviews were analysed following hermeneutic methodological principles. Two Norwegian geriatric wards participated: one at a university hospital and one at a local hospital. Twelve participants, six women and six men, were purposively selected. The relatives were aged from 36 to 88 (mean age 62) and were spouses, children and/or children-in-law of patients.
The relatives' experienced opportunities to exert influence were distributed along a continuum ranging from older relatives being reactive waiting for an initiative from health professionals, to younger adults being proactive securing influence. Older "invisible" carers appeared to go unnoticed by the health professionals, establishing few opportunities to influence decisions. The middle-aged relatives also experienced limited influence, but participated when the hospital needed it. However, limited participation seemed to have less impact on their lives than in the older relatives. Middle-aged relatives and younger adults identified strategies in which visibility was the key to increasing the odds of gaining participation. The exceptional case seemed to be some older carers' experiences of influencing decisions with the help of professionals.
Our findings suggest that experiences of influence were limited regardless of age. However, the results indicated that participation among relatives decrease with age while vulnerability for not having influence seemed to increase with age. The problem of patient choice most clearly manifested among the older carers, which might indicate that the relatives' age sets terms for opportunities to participate.
Cites: Implement Sci. 2006 Aug 09;1:16 PMID 16899124