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Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
General Health Channel
Reported March 5, 2012

Improving the Experience of Dying

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- America's health care system has improved greatly over the course of history. New discoveries and breakthroughs in medicine have helped many people overcome diseases that were once considered tragic and the average life expectancy has improved dramatically. So it is not that far fetched to consider how the experience of dying can be improved to become as pain free and stress free as possible.

Recent research by Olav Lindqvist and colleagues set out to discover how care giving for the dying can be improved. They focused mostly the range of non-pharmacological palliative care for cancer patients in their last few days of life. Lindqvist explored this notion by examining 16 different palliative care institutions in Argentina, New Zealand, and seven different European countries. They conducted surveys that asked the care staff to describe the activities and interventions they carried out with the patients and their families. Over 900 statements were used to form the basis of the analysis. Researchers attempted to categorize the character of the activities and to whom the care was directed. A common theme was discovered, efforts are made by palliative care staff to personalize care and support links with a dying individual's everyday life.

The care for most patients was centered on the emotional and physical comfort with bodily care, and contact. The contact between caregiver and patient would range from attending to a physical needs (like keeping the patient's lips moist) to providing emotional needs (like holding the patient's hand). Also, the care givers stressed an emphasis on creating a pleasing environment by offering small comforts to the patient; for example, they would keep a patient's slippers by their bed even though they were unable to walk.

Also the care offered by staff extended to the patients' families as well. They offered a range of care including rituals, both legal and spiritual, to practical considerations, such as removing a wheelchair from a person's house once they have died.

The qualitative study found that the approaches used by palliative care staff were versatile, with psychological, physical, spiritual, social, and existential care interwoven in care giving activities. The research provides hope that it is possible to have a good quality of death and through research the process of dying can be improved.

SOURCE: PLoS Medicine, March 2012

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