How and where does “care” fit within seminal life-course approaches? A narrative review and critical analysis

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To map the concepts of the caring life-course theory that are used in life-course approaches from different disciplines; establish whether there is a common recognition of, or language used, to describe care in those life-course approaches; and identify the role and contribution of care to the life-course literature.

This discursive paper uses a narrative review process to explore points of convergence and divergence between life-course approaches and the caring life-course theory.

Categories for analysis were developed deductively and inductively, focusing on the constructs of fundamental care, capacity and capability, care network, care transition, care trajectory and care biography.

We identified four disciplinary perspectives: (1) life-course sociology; (2) life-course epidemiology; (3) lifespan developmental psychology; and (4) life-course health development. While six core constructs of the caring life-course theory were described, either explicitly or implicitly, in existing life-course approaches, no single approach fully describes the role and contribution of care across the lifespan.

Life-course approaches have largely neglected the contribution and role of care in informing the life-course discourse. This review highlights the significance of care beyond traditional healthcare settings and recognizes it as a fundamental human need for well-being and development, which can contribute to existing life-course literature.

Implication for the Profession and/or Patient Care
There is a need to understand care as a complex system and embrace a whole-system, life-course approach to enable nurses and other healthcare professionals to provide high-quality, patient-centred care.

Incorporating care within a life-course approach provides opportunities to integrate and deliver care centred around the person, their life transitions, trajectories and care networks, including informal carers and healthcare professionals.

No Patient or Public Contribution
Patients or members of the public were not involved in this study as it is a discursive paper based on the relevant literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)871-883
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number3
Early online date8 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • care professions
  • caring theory life-course
  • delivery of healthcare
  • fundamental care
  • human development
  • life-course
  • narrative review
  • self-care


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