Towards a unifying caring life-course theory for better self-care and caring solutions: A discussion paper

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Aim: To present the first iteration of the caring life-course theory. Background: Despite requiring care from birth to death, a person's universal or fundamental care needs and the subsequent care provision, either by self or others, has yet to be presented within a life-course perspective. Accurately describing the care people require across their lifespan enables us to identify who, what type, how and where this care should be provided. This novel perspective can help to legitimise a person's care needs and the support they require from wider care systems and contexts. Design: Discussion paper outlines theory development. We adopted an inductive approach to theory development, drawing upon existing literature and the team's diverse experiences. Our theoretical insights were refined through a series of collaborative meetings to define the theory's constructs, until theoretical saturation was reached. Discussion: Fourteen constructs are identified as essential to the theory. We propose it is possible, using these constructs, to generate caring life-course trajectories and predict divergences in these trajectories. The novel contribution of the theory is the interplay between understanding a person's care needs and provision within the context of their lifespan and personal histories, termed their care biography, and understanding a person's care needs and provision at specific points in time within a given care network and socio-political context. Impact for Nursing: The caring life-course theory can provide a roadmap to inform nursing and other care industry sectors, providing opportunities to integrate and deliver care from the perspective of the person and their care history, trajectories and networks, with those of professional care teams. It can help to shape health, social and economic policy and involve individuals, families and communities in more constructive ways of talking about the importance of care for improved quality of life and healthy societies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e6-e20
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number1
Early online date18 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • care professions
  • delivery of health care
  • human development
  • models
  • nursing
  • self-care
  • theoretical


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