Aged Care

Quality care ‘only a piece of a much larger jigsaw puzzle’ to ease grief in aged care


It’s a difficult reality that many families face – the heart-wrenching decision to move an ageing loved one into a nursing home or assisted living facility. While it may be the best option for providing the care they need, it doesn’t make the transition any easier. In fact, a recent study found that families often begin grieving the moment their loved ones enter residential aged care, and this grief only deepens over time.

The research, led by Flinders University, reviewed numerous studies on the experiences of families with loved ones in residential aged care homes.

“Families whose relatives enter the aged care system often start grieving from the moment their family member is placed into residential care and it grows from there,” explains Dr Priyanka Vandersman, a Senior Research Fellow at Flinders University’s Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death and Dying. “Our research shows that right from the start, how families are treated and assisted throughout this complex process has a profound impact on how they experience this grief.”

The findings highlighted that the quality of care provided to residents during their final days and after passing away significantly influenced the family’s grief reaction. However, it also revealed that compassionate care alone isn’t enough to ease the burden of grief.

“We already knew that good quality care provided to a dying person can lead to a good grief experience for their family, but our review went further and showed it’s only one piece of a much larger jigsaw puzzle,” says Dr Vandersman.

According to the study, involving families in their loved ones’ care, having open conversations about their declining health, discussing care options and choices, and helping them prepare for the inevitable loss were all crucial factors that shaped the family’s grieving process.

Families who felt included, informed and supported through these difficult conversations tended to have an easier time coping with their grief. On the other hand, those who felt left in the dark or excluded from important decisions often struggled more with the emotional weight of the situation.

The study’s findings underscore the need for a comprehensive approach to supporting families through this challenging journey. It calls for nursing homes, government agencies and researchers to work together to develop a better approach to address grief, loss, and bereavement in the aged care setting.

“Recognising the emotional experiences and support needs of families and carers can enhance our understanding of the ageing, caring, dying, grieving pathway for older people and their families,” says co-author Professor Jennifer Tieman, Director of the Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death and Dying.

Tieman emphasises the importance of open communication and meaningful discussions, stating, “We need to invest in leadership within the sector, along with service initiatives and staff education, if we are to facilitate timely and meaningful discussions around end-of-life care needs.”

These conversations not only provide emotional support but also guide families through the practical and logistical decisions they must make, ensuring their loved ones receive responsive and proactive care during their final months, weeks and days.

Next Up