Can you hear me now? The experience of a deaf family member surrounding the death of loved ones

From: Palliative Medicine

It is well documented that good communication is a vitally important issue to family members of a dying person. The challenges for a Deaf person in this situation are therefore often considerably greater. Estimates of the size of the Deaf community range from 100,000 to 1.8 million in the USA alone.  American Sign Language is considered the third most commonly used language in the USA. It is clear Deaf people are a significant demographic and this case study highlights how their needs have been largely overlooked. There is limited research concerning healthcare for the Deaf community and even less regarding care at the end of life. This study offers a framework for future research and provides valuable guidance for clinicians.

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Introduction: Individuals who are Deaf face challenges both similar and unique from those faced by hearing individuals when a family member is dying. This study was guided by the question, ‘‘What are the challenges faced by a Deaf family member when a loved one is dying?’’

Methods: This qualitative study is guided by critical theory and an interpretive perspective. Robert, a college-educated older adult who has been Deaf from birth was interviewed in American Sign Language using a death history format.

Results: There are challenges for Deaf family members that affect communication with both the dying person and health care professionals. Patient-family communication issues included physical challenges and financial challenges. Lack of cultural competence concerning the Deaf community created challenges communicating with professionals. Decision-making was also a challenge.

Conclusions: These findings provide a framework for future research concerning the needs of Deaf individuals facing the end of life and provide guidance for clinicians.

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Article details:

Title: Can you hear me now? The experience of a deaf family member surrounding the death of loved ones

Authors: Karen A Kehl and Constance M Gartner

From: Palliative Medicine, Vol. 24, No. 1, 88-93 (2010)

DOI: 10.1177/0269216309348180

First published: January 2010

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