Publication date

The use of supportive communication when responding to older people’s emotional distress in home care: an observational study.

Hafskjold, L., Sundling, V., Dulmen, S. van, Eide, H. The use of supportive communication when responding to older people’s emotional distress in home care: an observational study. BMC Nursing: 2017, 16(24)
Read online
Responding to older people’s distress by acknowledging or encouraging further discussion of emotions is central to supportive, person-centred communication, and may enhance home care outcomes and thereby promote healthy aging. This observational study describes nursing staff’s responses to older people’s emotional distress, and identify factors that encourage further emotional disclosure.

Audio-recorded home care visits in Norway (n = 196), including 48 older people and 33 nursing staff, were analysed with the Verona Coding Definitions of Emotional Sequences, identifying expressions of emotional distress and subsequent provider responses. The inter-rater reliability (two coders), Cohen’s kappa, was >0.6. Sum categories of emotional distress were constructed: a) verbal and non-verbal expressions referring to emotion, b) references to unpleasant states/circumstances, and c) contextual hints of emotion. A binary variable was constructed based on the VR response codes, differentiating between emotion-focused responses and responses that distanced emotion. Fisher’s exact test was used to analyse group differences and determined variables included in a multivariate logistic regression analysis to identify factors promoting emotion-focused responses.

Older people’s expressions of emotional distress (n = 635) comprised 63 explicit concerns and 572 cues. Forty-eight per cent of nursing staff responses (n = 638) were emotion-focused. Emotion-focused responses were observed more frequently when nursing staff elicited the expression of emotional distress from the patients (54%) than when patients expressed their emotional distress on their own initiative (39%). Expressions with reference to emotion most often received emotion-focused responses (60%), whereas references to unpleasant states or circumstances and contextual hints of emotion most often received non-emotion-focused responses (59%). In a multivariate logistic model, nursing staff’s elicitation of the emotional expression (vs patients initiating it) and patients’ expression with a reference to an emotion (vs reference to unpleasant states or contextual hints) were both explanatory variables for emotion-focused responses.

Emotion-focused responses were promoted when nursing staff elicited the emotional expression, and when the patient expression referred to an emotion. Staff responded most often by acknowledging the distress and using moderately person-centred supportive communication. More research is needed to establish generalizability of the findings and whether older people deem such responses supportive. (aut. ref.)