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Making sense of health and illness in palliative care: Volunteers' perspectives

  • Andrée Sévigny (a1) (a2) (a3) (a4), S. Robin Cohen (a2), Serge Dumont (a3) and Annie Frappier (a4)

Abstract

Objective:

To encourage communication and contribute to the palliative care movement's need for interdisciplinary care, this article offers to explore the stance of volunteers on two fundamental concepts, “health” and “illness,” as well as their related understanding of “palliative care.” Volunteers' understandings are then compared with the concepts put forth by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) in its “Model to Guide Hospice Palliative Care.”

Method:

Focus groups with volunteers, and individual interviews with coordinators from five selected palliative care community action organizations from across Canada, are used. A total of 65 participants from three Canadian provinces were interviewed.

Results:

Participants view illness as a subjective, multidimensional, and transformative experience that requires multiple adjustments. It is an impediment to personal equilibrium and a challenge for the terminally ill and their close ones. Health, on the other hand, is a complex phenomenon that consists of physical, psychological, social, and spiritual well-being. For participants, health is most often embodied by a person's capacity to adjust to their challenging circumstances. Both volunteers and coordinators see palliative care as an alternative approach to care that centers on helping patients and their families through their ordeal by offering comfort and respite, and helping patients enjoy their life for as long as possible.

Significance of Results:

Participants describe illness as a destabilizing loss and palliative care as a means to compensate for the numerous consequences this loss brings; their actions reflect these principles and are compatible with the CHPCA model.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Andrée Sévigny, Hôpital St-Sacrement, 1050 Chemin Ste-Foy, Québec (Québec), G1S 4L8, Canada. Email: andree.sevigny.cha@ssss.gouv.qc.ca

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