Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Share this article on:

When a Parent Is Chronically Ill: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Donalek, Julie G.

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181ac156f

Background: Chronic illness may reshape not only the life of the ill parent but also that of the entire family, but research in this area remains limited. More specifically, little is known about how an ill parent and the family respond to a particularly devastating and controversial chronic illness, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Objectives: The objective of this study was to describe the responses of the parent and the ensuing family system responses to the presence of chronic fatigue syndrome as a chronic parental illness.

Methods: Parents were interviewed individually, and then the ill parent and as many immediate family members as possible were interviewed collectively. After consent or assent, interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. Thematic analyses at the individual, intrafamily, and across-family levels were used to explore these phenomena.

Results: Eight ill parents first described the onset of illness, an ongoing struggle to receive diagnosis and care, and the significance of the illness in transforming present and future roles. Multiple members of the family together with the ill parent described how they struggled with the reality of the illness, the shifting roles and responsibilities, the reduced family income, and the frequent social isolation that could be exacerbated by the controversial nature of the illness. Families described and demonstrated their struggles to maintain normal family life and plans in the face of continuing uncertainty.

Discussion: This study is situated within current scholarship on family responses to chronic parental illness. The value of the family research interview is affirmed. Recommendations are made for future directions in family nursing research exploring responses of families in which a parent is chronically ill.

Julie G. Donalek, PhD, RN, is Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois.

Accepted for publication February 23, 2009.

This study was funded in part by a DePaul University Faculty Research Grant.

The author thanks Agatha Gallo, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor, University of Illinois College of Nursing, and Leonard Jason, PhD, professor, DePaul University, for their extraordinary support during all phases of this research.

Corresponding author: Julie G. Donalek, PhD, RN, Department of Nursing, DePaul University, 990 W. Fullerton Ave., Ste. 3000, Chicago, IL 60614 (e-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.