Supporting parents with chronic illnesses
Brenda L. Janotha DNP-DCC, ANP-BC

January 2011 
Volume 41  Number 1
Pages 59 - 62
  PDF Version Available!

CHRONIC ILLNESS can be defined as a permanently altered state of health caused by a progressive pathological process.1 According to the CDC, chronic illness affects nearly half of all Americans, roughly 133 million people.2 Besides coping with their health problem, chronically ill adults who have children face the additional challenge of parenting with illness.A good deal of research has been done about how a child's illness affects the family, but much less information is available about parents suffering with chronic illness.3 This article explores ways nurses can help adult patients and their children cope with a parent's chronic illness.Chronic illness brings about many changes that can threaten family stability.4 As chronically ill parents are forced to face the challenges of their illness, they must simultaneously adapt their family responsibilities.3,5Research exploring the general perspective of parenting with illness is limited, but some studies have evaluated parents afflicted with specific chronic diseases, such as cancer, HIV infection, and multiple sclerosis. Information extrapolated from these reviews indicates that children with a parent who has a chronic illness experience greater psychological and social challenges than other children their age.6-8The illness itself often predicts the effect on the family. Progressively debilitating diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis are especially likely to have a negative impact on families.9 Specific subjective symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, also undermine personal and social relationships.10All diseases can be described by type of onset, course of progression, potential outcomes, and functional limitations. A chronic illness may also be described according to specific phases, such as crisis, chronic, and terminal phases. Classifying the illness helps predict how the illness will affect the family.11Besides the disease itself, such factors as burden of care, financial impact, lifestyle modifications,

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