Conversations about Death and Dying with Older People: An Ethnographic Study in Nursing Homes

Åsa Alftberg, Gerd Ahlström, Per Nilsen, Lina Behm, Anna Sandgren, Eva Benzein, Birgitta Wallerstedt, Birgit Rasmussen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nursing homes are often places where older persons “come to die.” Despite this, death and dying are seldom articulated or talked about. The aim of this study was to explore assistant nurses’ experiences of conversations about death and dying with nursing home residents. This study is part of an implementation project through a knowledge-based educational intervention based on palliative care principles. An ethnographic study design was applied in seven nursing homes, where eight assistant nurses were interviewed and followed in their daily assignments through participant observations. The assistant nurses stated that they had the knowledge and tools to conduct such conversations, even though they lacked the time and felt that emotional strain could be a hinder for conversations about death and dying. The assistant nurses used the strategies of distracting, comforting, and disregarding either when they perceived that residents’ reflections on death and dying were part of their illness and disease or when there was a lack of alignment between the residents’ contemplations and the concept of dying well. They indicated that ambivalence and ambiguity toward conversations about death and dying should be taken into consideration in future implementations of knowledge-based palliative care that take place in nursing homes after this project is finalized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Issue number63
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun 14

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Nursing
  • Ethnology

Free keywords

  • auxiliary nurse
  • existential communication
  • frailty
  • ethnographic approach
  • life-limiting disease
  • older
  • aged
  • palliative care
  • residential care
  • end-of-life


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