How to talk about death, dying

How to talk about death, dying

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DYING TO KNOW: A new study sheds light on how to have a difficult conversation about death. Photo: Supplied.

DYING TO KNOW: A new study sheds light on how to have a difficult conversation about death. Photo: Supplied.

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It's the important conversation that we're reluctant to have.

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IT can be hard to picture a world without our loved ones in it, but at some stage, it will become the reality.

A new study is focused on teaching people how to address difficult conversations about death.

Researchers from Flinders University have found our reluctance to think, talk or communicate about death is even more pronounced when we deal with others' loss compared to our own, but either way we tend to frame attitudes and emotions in a sad and negative way.

The team surveyed 1491 people about the use of language to express their feelings and insights into death and dying.

Those surveyed were enrolled in Dying2Learn, a six-week MOOC (massive open online course) course developed at Flinders University to encourage open conversation about death and dying.

Analysis of the emotional content of the words used by the group showed that by the end of the course participants were able to use "more pleasant, calmer and dominating (in-control) words to express their feelings about death".

"In an ageing population, when our elders and terminally ill are often cared for by health professionals in residential care rather than in the home, we can go through life without really discussing or witnessing the end of life," said lead author Lauren Miller-Lewis.

"Tackling and changing these perspectives will help the community to plan for and manage future needs and expectations of care at end-of-life, improve patient and family care - including greater preparedness for death - and also help develop future health services," Dr Miller-Lewis said,

"Words aren't neutral, so understanding the emotional connotations tied to words we use could help guide palliative care conversations."

A new interactive online resource will be released in mid-2021 using insights, feedback and suggestions from the Dying2Learn program.

The study also found differences between how course participants described the feelings towards death and dying of other people in the community compared to their own - with 'sad', 'fear', 'scary' and 'loss' more common than their own preference for less emotionally negative words such as 'inevitable', 'peace' and 'natural'.

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