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Although dying well is covered thoroughly by lay literature, scientific literature on the matter is much more sparse.
The concept of discovering the meaning of life when one is faced with his or her mortality is a common theme in films, novels and biographies.
But when the end comes, what is the general consensus? What do the dying and the soon-to-be bereaved consider to be a good death?
Some believe that American culture, indeed Western culture at large, is becoming increasingly death-phobic.
In sharp contrast to 100 years ago when seeing a dead body would be commonplace, nowadays, individuals outside of the relevant industries (health, funeral homes) very rarely see a corpse. Consequently, death is less likely to be discussed and considered.
In hospices and palliative care settings, these themes are more often debated. But coming up with a neat definition of a “good death” that fits all viewpoints is challenging, and there is very little research to back up the conversation.
Certain organizations have attempted to sum up the principles of dying well. According to an Institute of Medicine report, a good death is:
“Free from avoidable distress and suffering for patient, family and caregivers, in general accord with the patient’s and family’s wishes, and reasonably consistent with clinical, cultural and ethical standards.”
Few would disagree with most of the points listed above, but what is the split between each facet? What are the primary objectives for someone who is facing imminent death?
A research team from the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine decided to carry out a review of the existing literature to uncover what a good death entails.
The secret of a ‘good death’
The team, headed up by Dr. Dilip Jeste, focused their research on three sets of individuals: patients, family members (prior to and during bereavement) and health care providers. This is, as far as the authors can tell, the first time that these three groups have been compared and contrasted in such a way. According to Dr. Jeste:
“Death is obviously a controversial topic. People don’t like to talk about it in detail, but we should. It’s important to speak honestly and transparently about what kind of death each of us would prefer.”
The team’s literature search returned 32 relevant papers. From these sources, the team uncovered 11 core elements to consider when contemplating a good death:
- Preference for a specific dying process
- Religious or spiritual element
- Emotional well-being
- Life completion
- Treatment preferences
- Quality of life
- Relationship with health care provider
- Life completion
Across all three of the groups being studied, the categories considered most important were preferences for a specific dying process (94% of all reports), being pain-free (81%) and emotional well-being (64%).
However, certain discrepancies between the groups came to light. For instance, spirituality and religiosity were deemed more important by patients than family members – 65% compared with 50%, respectively.
Family members were more likely to put emphasis on life completion (80%), quality of life (70%) and dignity (70%). Meanwhile, health care professionals tended to occupy the middle ground between the patients and family members.
The future of death
First author Emily Meier confirms the gist of these findings from her personal experience as a psychologist at Moores Cancer Center, UC-San Diego Health:
“Clinically, we often see a difference between what patients, family members and health care providers value as most important near the end of life.”
Meier goes on to say that “ultimately, existential and other psychosocial concerns may be prevalent among patients, and this serves as a reminder that we must ask about all facets of care that are essential at the end of life.”
Dr. Jeste sums up the conclusions to be drawn from the investigation: “ask the patient.”
Although the topic can be uncomfortable for the patient, or, indeed, the family, it is essential to voice concerns and desires and listen to the patient’s wishes. Dr. Jeste hopes that in the future “it may be possible to develop formal rating scales and protocols that will prompt greater discussion and better outcomes. You can make it possible to have a good death by talking about it sometime before.”
Death is certainly not a topic that will be disappearing any time soon. The more open and frank everyone involved can be, the smoother the process will surely become.
The Boulder Analogy.
All credits of this video go to the Darlington Studios https://vimeo.com/darlingtonstudios
You just received the news. You have a life-threatening or life-limiting condition. Your loved one has a life-threatening or life-limiting condition. You know you have counted time to organize your life around this new reality, but you are not feeling up to it right now. You feel you need support.
You just received the news. Your loved one is now departed. You are in shock, your mind is in a fog, you have a storm of emotions raging inside you, you feel exhausted, and then there’s that void. You feel you need support.
Here we are: how can we help you today?
You are not alone in your journey. We will be with you at every step of the way. We have many ways to support you and your loved ones. We go to you and will be with you at home, in the long-term care facility, at the hospice, or at the hospital.
You are not alone in your journey. We have many ways to support you through your grief. This is a very personal journey. You are going through grief towards healing, and only you can tell us how it feels. We are here to listen to you and to be your companion.
All our services are free of charge. Just give us a call.
We surround you with support in all dimensions of your life: emotional support, physical support, respite support, information support, social support, spiritual support, bereavement support, advanced directives-living wills, lending library, loan cupboard, awareness and education support.
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We will be with you every step of the way.
Organizations can also be our clients. After all, organizations are made of human beings, and this means that sooner or later one of your employees will be impacted by illness, death, or simply aging loved ones in need to be taken care of in their family.
The number of professionals who are also caregivers of seriously ill, long-term, or simply aging loved ones increases at every day. This impacts on organizations with multiplied cases of staff stress, burn-out, illness, compromised performance, work-related accidents, sick call-in, and sick leave, among other issues such as impact on the general staff mood, organizational environment, and more. Studies show that long-term caregivers of a seriously ill or aging loved one end up with some major illness themselves, or seriously burnt out.
Bereavement and grief also have a tremendous impact on personal health, staff mood and organizational performance.
Recent studies show that the immune system of bereaved people is seriously compromised, and needs an average of two years to go back to its normal healthy levels. Symptoms such as depression, anxiety, difficulty to focus on, no concentration, insomnia, and slowed down general performance are present for months after the death of a loved one. This means that bereaved staff are physically, emotionally, psychologically and cognitively vulnerable and in need of support.
We can help reduce the impact of long-term care-giving, grief and bereavement among your staff in many ways.
We can go to you and provide related training, education, presentations, and support your staff, in your company.
If you are concerned about one of your employees facing any of these issues, all you need is to give us a phone call. It will be a pleasure to schedule a visit to your organization and know more about your specific needs.
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