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50+: Live Better, Longer

'Dignity Therapy' Gives Comfort to Dying Patients

Study Shows Therapy Is Helpful for Terminally Ill Patients and Their Families
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Healing Family Relations

Gisele Wolf-Klein, MD, the director of geriatric education at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y., says that dignity therapy is something that many doctors have been providing for a long time, but they didn't have a name for it.

"This is quite a remarkable study," she says. "It shows the incredible impact that the right approach and communication can have on ultimate quality of life."

"When you talk to people about their life, you allow them not to be a naked patient in a gown, but a mother, business executive, or whatever their role is," Wolf-Klein says. "This is much more satisfactory than if you are just treated like a number in a room."

It is about getting to know the person, not the patient, she says. "We want to understand their life history and what their roles have been in their family or community and what have they accomplished and are really proud of."

Donald Schumacher, PsyD, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, a nonprofit group in Alexandria, Va., says that this type of therapy should be offered to all patients with terminal illnesses.

"It is very useful and helpful, and this study does point out very dramatically that people in last stages of life can benefit," he says. "The feeling had been that if you don't have a long time to be in therapy, it won't be helpful, but that is not true."

Dignity therapy "will help patients complete some of their life work and can go a way to healing familial relations that might be undone."

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