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Group support seems to lessen end-of-life burden

Linda Searing The Washington Post

The question: As death nears, many people vow to be strong and continue living well to the end, but distress often creeps in nonetheless. Might participating in a support group that focuses on spiritual and emotional issues ameliorate those feelings?

This study randomly assigned 69 people with life-threatening conditions to meet monthly with a small group of people with similar ailments or to receive quarterly mailings of self-help materials, similar to information available in doctors’ offices. Support group members shared feelings and experiences, with discussions on such topics as intimate relationships, controlling symptoms, end-of-life planning, legacies and spiritual needs. After a year, based on scores on standardized rating scales, support group participants had fewer symptoms of depression and feelings of meaninglessness and felt better spiritually than the others.

Who may be affected by these findings? Anyone who has a life-threatening illness or is approaching the end of life with trepidation.

Caveats: Effects of a support group may vary, depending on the members, the facilitator and the topics discussed. The study involved a small number of participants, and 26 percent of them did not complete the study, mostly for health reasons. The authors suggest that more-frequent group sessions might produce more-positive results.

Bottom line: People facing a life-threatening illness or caring for such a person may want to investigate support groups that focus on spiritual and emotional issues.

Find this study: April issue of the Journal of Palliative Medicine; article available online at www.liebertpub.com/jpm.

Learn more about end-of-life issues at www.acponline.org (search for “dying”) and www.doctorsforadults.com (click “Health Care Topics,” then “End of Life Care”).

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