Aim. To review systematically research conducted during the past five years focusing on the relatives' situation and needs in end-of-life care. Background and aim. That relatives make a large contribution in the care of the dying is well-known. In this situation, relatives often have to solve many new practical problems in the care as well as dealing with the sorrow of both themselves and the dying person. In recent years, palliative care has been developed in many countries and many new studies have been carried out. Methods. A systematic search of the literature was performed in the CINAHL and Medline databases. Of the 94 papers analysed, there were 59 qualitative and 35 quantitative studies with differing designs. The studies were carried out in 11 countries and were published in 34 different journals. Results. The results were categorized in two main themes with several subthemes: (1) being a close relative – the situation: (i) exposed position – new responsibility, (ii) balance between burden and capacity and (iii) positive values; (2) being a close relative – needs: (i) good patient care, (ii) being present, (iii) knowing and communicating and (iv) support from and trusting relationship with the professional. The relative's feelings of security and trust in the professional were found to be of great importance.
Conclusion. More than twice as many studies had a descriptive/explorative design, which is of importance in the assessment of evidence. However, different studies complement one another and in summary, it can be said that analytic evidence is unequivocal: good patient care, communication, information and the attitude of the professional are of decisive importance regarding relatives' situation. These results are also in accord with earlier review studies.
Relevance to clinical practice. Staff members have a great deal of responsibility for assuring that the patient feels as good as possible, facilitating relatives’ involvement based on the family's wishes and limiting the stress and difficulties experienced by the family. The results showed that the relative's satisfaction could depend on the attitude of the professional as well as on good communication, good listening and good information. This can also be viewed as a prerequisite for the professional to get to know the family and to provide ‘care in the light’.