Although death is readily recognized by medical professionals and laypersons alike, it is difficult to truly define the term. Science and technology blurs the lines between life and death with each new innervation. Not only do scientific efforts challenge human understanding of death, they have allowed for a greater awareness of when death will occur. Along with this awareness are certain common reactions that have been studied by psychologists. Recent research delves further into how death is perceived by elderly patients. The next step is to use this research to develop protocols and psychological tools which could enhance care delivery. If new techniques are developed based on evidence from research, public and private resources can be optimized to provide meaningful experiences for elderly patients and their loved ones.
Definitions of Death
According to Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (Venes, Thomas, & Taber, 2001), death is the termination of all biological functions that support a living entity. All living entities eventually experience death. With the advent of modern medical equipment which is sensitive enough to measure tiny changes in biological functions, death is no longer considered an event. It is thought of more as a process. Some conditions that were once considered indications of death, such as cardiac arrest, now may be reversed. Clinical signs of death, such as cessation of heart function and breathing are no longer sufficient evidence for medical professionals to determine legal death. To complicate matters even more, heart function may be present along with breathing but a patient could be pronounced dead because of the absence of brain activity. As scientific understanding advan...
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Kubler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2007). On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York, NY: Scribner.
Payne, S., Hawker, S., Kerr, C., Seamark, D., Roberts, H., Jarret, N., & Smith, H. (2007, September). Experiences of end-of-life care in community hospitals. Health and Social Care in the Community, 15(5), 494-501.
Schneidman, E. (1999). Lives and Deaths: Selections from the Works of Edwin S. Schneidman (1st ed.). Florence, KY: Routledge.
Venes, D., Thomas, C. L., & Taber, C. W. (2001). Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary-Thumb Indexed Version (19th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: F A Davis.
Winter, L., Parker, B., & Schneider, M. (2007, August 31). Imagining the alternatives to life prolonging treatments: elders’ beliefs about the dying experience. Death Studies, 7, 619-631.
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