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Coping, adapting or self-managing – what is the difference? A concept review based on the neurological literature

28 Jun 2016


The aim of this study was to report: (1) an analysis of the concepts of coping, adaptation and self-management in the context of managing a neurological condition; and (2) the overlap between the concepts.


The three concepts are often confused or used interchangeably. Understanding similarities and differences between concepts will avoid misunderstandings in care. The varied and often unpredictable symptoms and degenerative nature of neurological conditions make this an ideal population in which to examine the concepts.


Concept analysis.

Data sources

Articles were extracted from a large literature review about living with a neurological condition. The original searches were conducted using SCOPUS, EMBASE, CINAHL and Psych INFO. Seventy-seven articles met the inclusion criteria of: (1) original article concerning coping, adaptation or self-management of a neurological condition; (2) written in English; and (3) published between 1999–2011.


The concepts were examined according to Morse's concept analysis method; structural elements were then compared.


Coping and adaptation to a neurological condition showed statistically significant overlap with a common focus on internal management. In contrast, self-management appears to focus on disease-controlling and health-related management strategies. Coping appears to be the most mature concept, whereas self-management is least coherent in definition and application.


All three concepts are relevant for people with neurological conditions. Healthcare teams need to be cautious when using these terms to avoid miscommunication and to ensure clients have access to all needed interventions. Viewing the three concepts as a complex whole may be more aligned with client experience.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Journal of Advanced Nursing