Nurses’ experience of loss on the death of older persons in long-term residential care: findings from an interpretative phenomenological study


  • Mary Gannon MHSc, HDip in Nursing Studies, RGN,

  • Maura Dowling MSc, PhD, RGN, RNT

Maura Dowling
School of Nursing and Midwifery
National University of Ireland
Telephone: +353 91 493833


Background.  Little is known of the experience of loss among nurses working with older persons in long-stay settings.

Objectives.  The aim of this study was to explore and describe the experience of loss among nurses working in a long-term residential care setting.

Design.  Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was the method adopted. Data was collected by semi-structured interviews undertaken with seven nurses.

Results.  The findings revealed three main themes: ‘life’s final journey’, ‘family’ and ‘professional carer’.

Conclusions.  The experience of loss on the death of an older person is described by nurses in the context of the care they give at end of life, and the relationships nurses developed with the older person’s family. Where the older person has no contact with family, nurses become the ‘family’ and this contributed to the feeling of loss experienced. Finally, the loss experienced by nurses when an older person dies suddenly can often be emotive.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Supporting nurses in their provision of end-of-life care to older persons is essential. Nurses’ attempts to keep memories of deceased residents alive by remembrance, helps place loss in the context of acknowledgment of the person’s life.