Perceptions of Death
Although death is readily recognized by medical professionals and laypersons alike, it is difficult to truly define the term. Science and technology blurs the lines between life and death with each new innervation. Not only do scientific efforts challenge human understanding of death, they have allowed for a greater awareness of when death will occur. Along with this awareness are certain common reactions that have been studied by psychologists. Recent research delves further into how death is perceived by elderly patients. The next step is to use this research to develop protocols and psychological tools which could enhance care delivery. If new techniques are developed based on evidence from research, public and private resources can be optimized to provide meaningful experiences for elderly patients and their loved ones.
Definitions of Death
According to Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (Venes, Thomas, & Taber, 2001), death is the termination of all biological functions that support a living entity. All living entities eventually experience death. With the advent of modern medical equipment which is sensitive enough to measure tiny changes in biological functions, death is no longer considered an event. It is thought of more as a process. Some conditions that were once considered indications of death, such as cardiac arrest, now may be reversed. Clinical signs of death, such as cessation of heart function and breathing are no longer sufficient evidence for medical professionals to determine legal death. To complicate matters even more, heart function may be present along with breathing but a patient could be pronounced dead because of the absence of brain activity. As scientific understanding advances, the definition of death becomes more involved and complex.
The concept of death is essential to human perception of the phenomena. Many differing scientific approaches have been applied to the concept. For example, brain death, as it is defined by medical science, describes death as the cessation of brain activity (Venes et al., 2001). The most difficult challenge of defining death is differentiating it from life. It would seem that death would refer to the moment that life ends. Determining when death has occurred requires describing precise conceptual boarders between life and death. There are no definitive agreements about how to define life.
Life may be explained in terms of consciousness. When consciousness ceases, a living organism could have experienced death. A flaw with this approach is that there are many organisms which exist but presumably are not conscious, like plants. Another issue with this solution is defining consciousness, which has various determinants given by modern psychologists, philosophers, and scientists. Other definitions of death emphasize the cessation of something. Within this context, the term of death describes a state in which something has stopped, such as life. In this manner...