Terminal Illness: Contructing Family Integrity in the Elderly Caregiver

Filipa Daniela Marques, Inês Mendes


Objectives: Caring for a person at the end of life is an increasingly common, as well as a physically, emotionally, relationally and developmentally challenging event. The family integrity, as an emotional process characterized by feelings of connection, continuity and belonging in the family, is a normal developmental challenge for the elderly, being heavily influenced by family system factors. This study explores the experiences of elderly caregivers of a relative with terminal illness and analyses its influence on the construction of family integrity. Method: A semi-structured interview was administered to 10 relative caregivers (65-80 years). Results: Results indicate that taking care of relatives with terminal illness is an opportunity to express support and responsibility. Specific aspects related to the act of caring that contribute to the development of family integrity, arise, namely: i) feelings of usefulness that nurture the accomplished duty; ii) transmission of a symbolic family legacy (marked by service to others); iii) division of family tasks and responsibility that enhance the perception of the support received and the release of caring. Conclusion: This study contributes to the appreciation of the elderly relative caregiver and of the family system as a wholeenhancingthe family configuration and dynamics.


family health; family caregivers; palliative care; illness