Types of Death Affecting the Hospice Patient


Saul Ebema, D.Min.

There are four types of death a dying individual experiences and those are; social, psychological, biological and physiological. Social death is the symbolic death of the patient in the world the patient has known. The patient’s social contacts often diminish; the patient is often isolated from community and confined to the bed, hospital or nursing home. The world as the patient had known it is gone.

Psychological death is the death of the dying person’s personality. This is usually caused by the dying process. I was talking to a daughter of a terminally ill patient suffering with the Alzheimer’s disease. The patient’s memory is dead. She can’t even remember her own children. The daughter told me, “As far as I am concerned, I lost my mother six months ago. From the day she couldn’t remember me, I knew she was dead.” The disease process often fosters personality changes biochemically. As death nears, the dying person withdraws from the world and into themselves. The dying person, as others have known that person, dies.

Biological death is when the organism as a human entity, no longer exists. Artificial feeding tubes or life support systems may be provided to the keep the patient alive.

Physiological death is the cessation of all vital organs. At this point, the patient is declared officially dead.

These four stages of death normally succeed one another. Pastoral counseling can help facilitate for a peaceful transition from one stage of death to another. The patient needs a lot of support from family, friends and faith community throughout this process.

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