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End of Life Care – How to Maintain Dignity

 By: Paige Lennox

dig·ni·ty noun

The state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect A sense of pride in oneself; self-respect

One of the greatest fears people have about dying is losing their sense of dignity and independence. Therefore maintaining dignity during end of life care is paramount.

The most important thing that you can do to help a person maintain dignity during end of life care is to remember they are an individual with unique needs, experiences, and desires. Everyone wants to be treated with respect during palliative care.

Keep the following ideas in mind to help maintain a person’s dignity:

  1. Speak to them directly. Introduce yourself to the person when you meet them. Never speak about them in the third person if they are in the room.

  2. Speak respectfully to and about the individual. Speak in terms they can understand. At the same time, do not patronize or speak down to them. Practice patience and empathy. Do not make jokes about the person, even if you think they are out of earshot. Answer them honestly to build trust and take the time to listen to their concerns.

  3. Ask the dying individual how they would like to be cared for. For example, when brushing their hair, ask how they like their hair parted. Explain what you will be doing before you do it—especially if you will be touching them. Remember that what is routine for you may be a new experience for them.

  4. Protect the person’s physical privacy. Maintain dignity by ensuring the person remains covered while providing care. When giving a bath, keep them covered with a blanket or towel, uncovering only the section of the body you are currently washing.

  5. Protect the individual’s personal information. Do not gossip or share personal information about them or their family beyond what is necessary for members of the care team.

  6. Assist the person with personal grooming. Go beyond the basics to help them retain their pride in their appearance. Trim their whiskers, brush their hair, help them dress. For individuals who found great satisfaction in their sense of style throughout their lives, pride in appearance is essential to their self-respect.

  7. Create a respectful atmosphere. Maintain dignity at End of Life by establishing a peaceful atmosphere in their final hours. Keep them comfortable. Play soft music to set the mood. Ensure the person’s spiritual needs are being met. Continue to speak to them even if they are no longer responsive. Assume they can still hear you since the sense of hearing is one of the last senses to go.

It is a privilege to be invited into a dying person’s life. A ‘Golden Rule’ to follow is to treat the person as they wish to be treated (it may be different from how YOU wish to be treated). When individuals are treated with respect, it creates a greater sense of trust and well-being.

CHAI Health Advocates are passionate about respecting patients and supporting families and caregivers. We can help you deal with any difficulties around planning for death and help you understand your options so you can have the highest quality of life possible.


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