Thursday, December 17, 2015

No One Dies Alone: End-of-Life Vigils and Doulas

"In Western countries, thousands of elderly will die alone this year—some within the institutions that care for them, but many in their own homes. In Japan, where one in four of its 127 million inhabitants are over the age of 65, it has become such a common occurrence—where the dead are not found for many weeks—it even has a name: kodokushi, lonely death.

In some part, the increase of the “lonely death” is the result of an aging global population where people are outliving relatives and friends—12.5 million Americans over the age of 65 live alone. And with more than 50 percent of the world now living in urban areas, the anonymous and transient culture that cities foster adds to our collective unawareness of who might be dying next door.

But we must also take personal responsibility. Our society has become increasingly fearful and intolerant of aging and dying. It is as if we would rather be immortal machines than face the rite of passage that comes with being part of nature.

The introduction of hospice care in the last century has sought to ease the final days of the living, but it serves just a tiny fraction of the population. Now end-of-life volunteer programs are stepping in. The volunteer-led No One Dies Alone (NODA) program was introduced by a nurse in Oregon in 2001. It involves volunteers holding “vigil shifts” for the dying in hospitals, and has been adopted in hundreds of institutions across the U.S., Singapore, and Japan. In the last 10 years, the efforts of NODA have been taken one step further with the introduction of tailored end-of-life volunteer training programs held beyond hospital wards."

Serving the Dying: End-of-Life Doulas

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