Research background Palliative care focuses on assessment and management of individual’s symptoms to improve upon quality of life (QOL). Oral symptom management and care remains a neglected area resulting in the current drive within health care service provision to address this. Whilst xerostomia is a prevalent symptom which increases in the terminal phase of advanced cancer, and is associated with significant morbidity, there has been a paucity of studies, especially those focusing on the individuals’ perspective.
Research design This Heideggerian phenomenological approach provided qualitative data to explore the lived experience of xerostomia from the perspective of an individual with advanced disease. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten individuals from within a community and day hospice setting. Colaizzi’s method of phenomenological enquiryrevealed four themes (living with subjective discomfort, living with fear, living with changes in lifestyle and navigating professional input) that describe the lived experience of xerostomia and the challenges faced by an individual on a daily basis.
Research findings The causes of xerostomia were multi-factorial, and the negative impact on QOL was compounded by advancing disease and other underlying medical conditions. Xerostomia was trivialised and self-managed as participants were adapting to advancing disease by using positivity to cope, and did not see this as a role for Health Care Professionals (HCPs). Any coping measures offered only temporary relief. It could be argued that if HCPs had a greater input into the assessment and management of xerostomia that the symptom would not be trivialised, and supportive strategies could be implemented to prevent further complications and improve QOL.
Conclusion and recommendations This research raises educational needs for HCPs focused on xerostomia and its management. Further research is required into saliva substitutes and stimulants, together with phenomenological studies into the impact, to increase the body of knowledge and to enhance and create supportive strategies for those living with xerostomia.
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