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May 2022

Impact of witnessing death on hospice patients

Author(s): Hillier, R., LangleyEvans, A., Roberts, T.

Journal/Book: Soc Sci Med. 1996; 43: The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England OX5 1GB. Pergamon-Elsevier Science Ltd. 1785-1794.

Abstract: In the three decades since the concept of ''awareness'' was introduced to describe the nature of communication between dying people and their carers, there has been a radical change in hospital policies and medical practice. It is now common for the majority of cancer patients to be given full information about their disease and prognosis. Hospices provide a model of care in which death and dying are dealt with in an open manner. While this approach has been welcomed by the majority of people, a minority might still prefer a more limited awareness. An inevitable part of hospice care is the exposure to, and awareness of, people who are dying. There is little empirical data that considers the impact of death on fellow patients. This pilot investigation compared psychological morbidity, perceptions of comfort and/or distress, and descriptions of a ''good death'' in hospice cancer patients who reported witnessing a fellow patient's death (n = 34) with patients who did not have this experience (n = 33). Patients were assessed using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale, an Events Checklist and a semi-structured interview. The results indicate that patients witnessing a death were significantly less depressed than those who did not. Awareness of dying was found to be both comforting and distressing, although overall patients reported more comforting than distressing events. A ''good death'' was defined by patients in terms of symptom control, including dying in their sleep, being pain free, quietness and dignity. Narratives were used to describe the meaning of a ''good death''. Quantitative and qualitative analyses have been undertaken to provide a complex interpretation of these issues.

Note: Article Payne S, Univ Southampton, Dept Psychol, Murray Bldg, Salisbury Rd, Southampton SO17 1BJ, Hants, ENGLAND

Keyword(s): palliative care; terminal care; communication; fellow patients; hospices; DEPRESSION SCALE; ANXIETY; CANCER


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