In many countries, including the Netherlands, due to an increasing aging population, family members are increasingly called upon to care for loved ones.

The use of family conversations in home care can prevent overloading of informal caregivers. It also ensures that informal caring families continue to function better, without the need for more professional care.

This is evident from the thesis of Susanne Broekema, lecturer in Social Work at Hanze University of Applied Sciences and UMCG PhD candidate. She received her PhD on 10 October for the results of her thesis at the University of Groningen.

In many countries, including the Netherlands, due to an increasing aging population, family members are increasingly called upon to care for loved ones. People who need care live longer at home and professional care is limited. The functioning of a family can come under pressure due to caring for a loved one and family members are at risk of overload. In her dissertation, Susanne Broekema investigated the effect of the use of family conversations in home care. She investigated whether this can improve family functioning and prevent overload, without the need for more professional care.

Family conversation leads to joint plan
A family conversation is a scheduled conversation between a nurse, a patient, and the patient’s family or other relatives. During the conversation, the nurse and the family get to know each other better, the attendees share their experiences, expectations, beliefs, concerns and wishes about the care situation and formulate a joint question. In the conversation, everyone’s perspective is discussed. The nurse structures the conversation, encourages open communication and acknowledges difficult experiences, emotions and also the strengths of the family. The attendees work towards a joint plan of action.

overloading informal carers Broekema’s research showed that nurses, after a multi-day training, were well able to have family conversations. In interviews, families said that after a family conversation they experienced more overview about the situation and better mutual contact. In the longer term, family members mentioned less overload and better connection of care with both their possibilities and the wishes of the care recipient.

Less professional home care needed
A comparison between families who had participated in two family conversations and families who only received the usual home care, again showed that family conversations had a positive influence on the functioning of the families and the degree of overload. Moreover, on average, these families needed less professional home care.

Advice for introducing family conversation
According to Susanne Broekema, the family conversation leads to an approach that optimally matches the wishes and possibilities of all those involved: patient, family members and professional care. She has some advice for organizations that are considering introducing family conversations. ‘Make sure that all stakeholders are involved in the introduction of family conversations and offer training to the nurses in advance to conduct these conversations. Managers in home care should also realize that the family conversation may first seem to provide extra work, but that the workload seems to decrease in the longer term. The family conversation must also be given a permanent place in daily practice.’

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