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Learning modules

Activity 2: Individual factors influencing death & dying

Various social changes and medical advances have influenced the way death and dying is experienced by people in contemporary western societies.

Other factors that influence how individuals experience dying include:

  • age: we tend to see death as something that happens in older age. This can make the death of younger people difficult to understand. It can also mean older people who are dying might receive less support because their death is 'expected'.
  • culture: the meaning given to illness, dying and death in different cultures can influence how an individual deals with the experience. For example, culture may influence the family's role at this time, communication patterns, or feelings of optimism or fatalism.
  • religion: religious beliefs can influence death rituals and beliefs about the afterlife. For some it may provide a source of meaning, while for others it may create a sense of conflict or distress.
  • past experience with death and dying: some people may have no experience with dying, and may be uncertain and fearful of what may occur. Others may be anxious about dying because of the negative experiences of someone they have known or heard about.

Influence of culture

Culture is the 'lens' through which we view the world and interpret or make sense of the experiences of life including illness, dying and death. [1]

Culture is a system of interrelated values active enough to influence patterns of thought, behaviours, communication styles and beliefs about life and death. [2]

Some important points about to consider about culture include:

  • Culture is a dynamic construct. Values and beliefs can change from one generation to the next depending on life experiences.
  • Cultural groups can vary according to where people live (urban, rural or remote regions), the type of environment and education. It is important not to stereotype a person based on their identified cultural background.
  • Your personal attitudes and beliefs can block or distort how you are perceived by people from different cultures.

Thinking points


1. Blacker, S., & Raines, J.A. (2004). Working with families facing life-threatening illness in the medical setting. In: J. Berzoff & P. Silverman (Ed.),Living with dying. A hand book for end-of-life healthcare practitioners (pp.548-570). New York: Columbia University Press.

2. Airhihenbuwa, C. (1995). Health and Culture: Beyond the western paradigm. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.