Nurses’ positive attitudes towards death and dying can alleviate the suffering of some terminally ill patients, according to new findings from Spanish researchers published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies.
Lead researcher Rafael Montoya-Juarez, from the University of Granada, and others sought to identify the psychological responses the terminally ill put in place to deal with the demands the end of life brings. The study is intended to be “a foundation for future nursing interventions.”
Researchers questioned 24 patients from various hospitals across Granada using a phenomologic approach. “Phenomenology is the appropriate theoretical approach to the study of suffering,” the researchers explain. “Because we assume a model of suffering based on the response to threats, we have transcended the purely descriptive approach by interpreting the data in light of this model.”
The participants’ answers to these questions allowed the researchers to identify a main category titled, “To realize that life is short.” As coming to terms with life’s finite nature is a main source of psychological discomfort for patients, it is also a starting point for developing psychological responses to reduce suffering.
Three categories emerged that showed different ways participants came to terms with death: “Re-Evaluation of life,” “Opportunity for growth” and “Resignation/Acceptance.”
Upon re-evaluating their lives, some patients became hopeful and reassured in feeling they met life’s major goals. “I have already done, as they say, the thing in life. I got married, I raised a child, I planted many trees in the field and I have done harm to no one and I am thus waiting for whatever God wants,” one participant said.
Others reported feeling more frustrated. ”This is one of the most saddening things, when you truly realize that life has an end, and you think, I did not do this or the other,” another participant told researchers.
Still, the dying process provided some participants with an opportunity for growth, the conviction that a terminal diagnosis helps determine one’s place in life. Those with this mindset tended to appreciate the simpler things in life. ”The illness has caused me to see life from a totally different perspective, to enjoy the small things and the big things, and to undervalue others,” another said.
Others said they felt relieved that life was coming to an end, and they had a sense of acceptance. “One has to accept and consider it as good because there is nothing that can be done about it,” one participant said. “You have to accept everything.”
Gender seemed to play a role in how an individual responded to a terminal diagnosis and death. Out of the fifteen men and nine women studied, men were more concerned about the loss of their job, social relationships and loss of physical functions. Women spoke more about their homes and daily routines, especially caring for their children. Women were also more likely to bring religion into their struggle, as if it were part of God’s will.
Nurses can alleviate the emotional impact of terminal illnesses on their patients by encouraging these psychological responses, the study concludes. Montoya-Juarez recommended that nurses provide realistic and achievable short-term goals for their patients, facilitate communication with family and enhance the feeling of satisfaction with life.
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