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Dying Parents with Young Children need more Support, Study Says

Update Date: Jan 04, 2016 11:29 AM EST

Dying parents with young children could benefit from more support and care, a new study concluded.

"What is unique about patients with young children is the extraordinary psychological suffering related to parenting," lead study author Dr. Eliza Park explained reported by FOX News. "The patient in these situations truly is the entire family unit."

For this study, the Park, who is a psychiatry researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues, surveyed 344 single fathers with young children who had lost their partner due to cancer. The typical family included at least two children under 18-years-old with the youngest one being about eight-years-old.

The participants' deceased spouses had an average age of 44. Roughly 43 percent of the women had cancer that metastasized by the time they were diagnosed. About 66 percent of them had received hospice care. 41 percent passed away at home and about 50 percent died at a location that they had picked.

Based on the fathers' reports, 38 percent of the patients did not say their farewells to their children prior to dying. 26 percent of the women were not at peace with the fact that they were dying. 90 percent of the fathers stated that their wives had continued to worry about their children's wellbeing.

"Having more time with their children without being a burden to their family is often their primary goal," Denice Sheehan, a researcher at Kent State University College of Nursing, who was not involved with this study, said to FOX via email. "Mothers tend to worry about how their children will live without them, who will take care of them and nurture them throughout their lives."

Sheehan is also the director of clinical research at Hospice of the Western Reserve located in Cleveland, Ohio.

The team did find that fathers who reported having better and clearer communication between the doctors and their wives in regards to the cancer prognosis were less likely to have signs of depression or grief. The researchers concluded that improved care and more support could help dying parents and their spouses deal with their fate.

Some limitations to the study included the lack of diversity and the inability for the researchers to assess depression and grief since the survey was conducted online and the answers were all self-reported. The participants were mainly white with income and education levels that were considered to be above average when compared to the income and education levels of the average widow.

The study was published in the journal, BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care.

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