Emerging Adult Health

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Siobhan MacDermott


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Research - Background

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Growing up and living with childhood chronic illness: Emerging adults’ lived experience.

Research Background

One of the greatest challenges that will face health systems globally in the 21st century will be the increasing burden of chronic diseases (WHO 2002).

Recent figures in Ireland estimate that the care of people with chronic illness consumes between 70-80% of all health care spending in Ireland (Health Services Executive 2008).

Worldwide the rise in the prevalence of chronic illness is having a significant impact on the delivery of health and social services

Healthcare is still largely built around an acute model of care that is ill-equipped to meet the requirements of those with chronic health problems.

Chronic conditions frequently go untreated or are poorly controlled until more serious and acute complications arise (WHO2008).

The goals of chronic care are not to cure but to enhance functional status, minimize distressing symptoms, prolong life through secondary prevention and enhance quality of life (Grumbach 2003).

It is clear that these goals are unlikely to be accomplished by means of the traditional approach to healthcare that focuses on acute care and individual diseases.

The successful management of childhood onset disease has meant that many young people with previous lethal diseases are now living with their illness successfully into adulthood. This coupled with the increased prevalence of childhood chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes has altered the landscape of chronic illness among young people (Perrin et al 2007).

The WHO report (2007) prevalence rates of chronic illness among adolescents as high as 15% and over 90% of these young people will survive into adulthood (Pai & Ostendorf 2011; Blum 1995). In Ireland recent figures have shown that 11.4% males and 12.1% females aged between 16 and 24 years have a reported chronic illness (Central Statistics Office 2010). With the success of health care in extending the lives of young people with chronic illness come challenges associated with this developmental period. Young adults are concurrently transitioning to emerging adulthood (18 to 29 years) and their transfer to adult health services. For some young people there is a struggle to achieve their authentic identity which can be sabotaged by external forces like illness. The young adult period often falls outside of both child and adult health care. This has led to a significant gap in the comprehensive body of research on emerging adults with chronic illness that is present in the adult and paediatric literature.

Exploring this specific age group, emerging adults, is critical because of the challenges both developmentally and emotionally young people face emerging into adulthood (Snelgrove 2012). This study explores both historical experiences as well as the current experiences of emerging adults living with chronic illness since childhood were explored in this study. It is essential that we understand the commonalities and diversities of emerging adulthood as one phenomenon and chronic illness as another and how they interact at different stages in the young adults biography.

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