Older Adults’ Experience of Meaning at the End of Life in Two Danish Hospices: A Qualitative Interview Study

Dorte Toudal Viftrup*, Christina Prinds, Ricko Damberg Nissen, Vibeke Østergaard Steenfeldt, Jens Søndergaard, Niels Christian Hvidt

*Corresponding author for this work

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The aim of this study was to explore how older adults (aged > 65) confronted with imminent death express their thoughts and feelings about death and dying and verbalize meaning. Furthermore, the aim was to investigate how health professionals could better address the needs of this patient group to experience meaning at the end of life. The study applied a qualitative method, involving semi-structured interviews with 10 participants at two hospices. The method of analysis was interpretative phenomenological analysis. We found three chronological time-based themes: (1) Approaching Death, (2) The time before dying, and (3) The afterlife. The participants displayed scarce existential vernacular for pursuing meaning with approaching death. They primarily applied understanding and vocabulary from a medical paradigm. The participants’ descriptions of how they experienced and pursued meaning in the time before dying were also predominantly characterized by medical vernacular, but these descriptions did include a few existential words and understandings. When expressing thoughts and meaning about the afterlife, participants initiated a two-way dialogue with the interviewer and primarily used existential vernacular. This indicates that the participants’ scarce existential vernacular to talk about meaning might be because people are not used to talking with healthcare professionals about meaning or their thoughts and feelings about death. They are mostly “trained” in medical vernacular. We found that participants’ use of, respectively, medical or existential vernacular affected how they experienced meaning and hope at the end of life. We encourage healthcare professionals to enter into existential dialogues with people to support and strengthen their experiences of meaning and hope at the end of life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number700285
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 17. Sep 2021


  • absolute hope
  • concrete hope
  • end of life
  • hospice
  • interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • meaning
  • qualitative method


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