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Children’s and young people’s experiences of chronic renal disease: a review of the literature, methodological commentary and an alternative proposal

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Darbyshire, P.; Oster, C.; Henning, P.

AIM: The aims of this paper were to review and critique existing research literature on children’s and young people’s experiences of chronic renal disease and to propose alternative approaches that may be more fruitful in addressing existing research shortcomings. BACKGROUND: Chronic renal disease, which results in approximately 1.6-4 new cases per year per million population in the 0-15 years age group, is a serious illness that causes severe and irreversible reduction in kidney function. Despite modern medical advances, its significance and implications for the lives of the children and young people concerned are profound. METHOD: Salient literature for this review was obtained using the major health and social science electronic databases such as Medline, CINAHL, Psyclit and Sociofile. Manual searching of relevant books, journals and ‘grey literature’, combined with the genealogy approach, extended and strengthened the search. CONCLUSIONS: Research in this area focuses mainly on two areas, namely psychological adjustment and adaptation to end-stage renal disease. This research is grounded within a framework of empirical psychology that values objectivity, measurement and quantification. This predominantly psychometric approach is critiqued for simplifying the complex experience of end-stage renal disease and for pathologizing children and young people with this disease. We identify a significant gap in the research literature, namely the lack of research that takes into account these children’s and young peoples’own perspectives of their experiences. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Chronic renal disease has a significant impact on children’s and young people’s lives. Understanding the experiences of these children is important for the provision of effective healthcare. Conducting child-centred qualitative research in this area would allow us to explore vital questions of meaning, perception and understanding. If health and social care organizations claim to provide ‘consumer-focused’ services, it behoves us to develop first a clearer understanding of the lives and experiences of children and families who seek our help and to use this knowledge and understanding to plan and provide more grounded and responsive services.

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