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date: 23 November 2017

Summary and Keywords

Death is inevitable: We witness the death of others and eventually face our own. However, people in general view death as taboo and tend to avoid discussing their own or others’ mortality. A cultural shift has been taking place in the developed world so that dying has become an increasingly medicalized process, where death is viewed as something to be stopped or delayed instead of accepted as part of a natural life cycle. As family members are less responsible for the dying process, communication about death and dying becomes a sensitive topic and is often ignored or avoided. Lack of this meaningful communication can lead to stereotypes about the dying person, conflict among family members, and fear of death. Talking about death and dying, if done correctly, can have a positive impact on health-care delivery and the bereavement process.

Incorporating knowledge of intergroup communication with a lifespan approach can deepen communication effectiveness about death and dying. People’s group identities can play important roles in the conversation about death and dying. As children and adolescents, people can encounter the death of older family members (e.g., grandparents) and the communication here can be intergenerational. Due to age differences, younger adults may feel uncomfortable to react to older adults’ painful disclosure of death and the bereavement process. During adulthood, people deal with the death uncertainty for themselves and their loved ones. The communication in this period can be intergenerational and inter-occupational, especially when there are third parties involved (e.g., medical providers or legal authorities). Death and dying communication tend to happen mostly, albeit not always, during the later lifespan, as time of death approaches, among older adults, family members, and medical providers. These conversations include advanced care planning (i.e., arrangements and plans about the dying process and after death), medical decision making, palliative care, and final talks. Increasing the awareness of death and dying can help to normalize the dying process.

Keywords: death and dying, end-of-life communication, intergroup communication, advance care planning, hospice, stereotype, aging and communication, intergenerational communication, communication accommodation theory, social identity, health and illness

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