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What is a 'good death'?

As we age, the topic of death becomes more prevalent in our lives. We witness our friends and family members pass away, and we become more aware of our own mortality. While it may be a difficult topic to discuss, it's important to understand what it means to have a 'good death' and how we can ensure that we or our loved ones can have one.

Boiling it down, having a ‘good death’ is about being able to maintain control and independence during the process, and having the opportunity to make decisions that are right for them.

 A 'good death' is often defined as one that is peaceful, pain-free, and in a comfortable environment surrounded by loved ones. For older people, a 'good death' may involve being able to die in their own home, with their loved ones by their side, and without experiencing unnecessary physical, emotional or psychological distress. For some people, being aware of what is happening is important as it gives them the opportunity to say goodbye and tie up loose ends.

One of the most important things that can be done to ensure a good death is to have conversations about end-of-life care with loved ones and healthcare providers. It's important to understand what options are available and to make decisions about what kind of care is desired; in New Zealand, this may include decisions about pain management, palliative and hospice care, and assisted dying.

Palliative care is a specialised form of medical care that focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms of serious illness. It can be provided in any setting, including in a person's home, and is designed to improve the quality of life for the person and their family. Palliative care can also help individuals and their families better cope with the emotional and spiritual aspects of dying.

For older people, it's also important to consider how their cultural and spiritual beliefs may influence their end-of-life care. Different cultures have different beliefs about death and dying, and it's important to respect and honour those beliefs. This can include decisions about burial or cremation, as well as any religious or spiritual rituals that may be desired.

Another aspect of a good death for older people is being able to maintain their dignity and sense of control. This can include decisions about where they want to die, who they want to be present, and what kind of care they want to receive. It's also important to ensure that older people have access to the resources they need to make these decisions, including legal and financial resources.

Updated: 11 Jun 2024
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