What do New Zealanders feel about death, dying and hospice?

Over three million of New Zealanders tend to feel anxious and uncomfortable when thinking about a loved one dying (69%).  That’s according to a new Public Attitudes Research conducted by Hospice New Zealand.

The research surveyed 1300 New Zealanders in Dec 2022 and Jan 2023.  There were more Maori and rural people surveyed to ensure the sample fairly represented the New Zealand population.

Death is all around us and often very close.

In 2022, 82 % of  New Zealanders had experienced the death of a close friend or relative. This number increased to over 90% for Māori.

In the past two years alone, two million of us have experienced the death of a close friend or relative.  But that doesn’t make us feel more comfortable about it.

“Three million of us feel it is hard to talk about death with someone you care about who is dying,” says Wayne Naylor, CEO of Te Kahu Pairuri o Aotearoa.

18-29 years are more likely to feel anxious when thinking about a loved one passing and more worried that their own death may be painful.

“Dying is not an easy subject to talk about. We don’t know what to say and we’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing. But the more we can  open up, talk about dying and be ok with all the feelings we have; we can make the most of life right until the end. This is where hospice care can be invaluable”

The research also revealed we are a caring bunch – and spend a lot of time doing this.

Nearly a million New Zealanders cared for a loved one who was dying in the past two years. With 40% of carers spending over 21 hours in their caring role.

The key rewards of being a carer were: spending time with that person (76%), giving back to someone they care about (75%), and doing something meaningful (61%).

One in three of us have experienced hospice and  overwhelmingly, New Zealanders see hospice as an essential part of medical services (90%). The holistic nature of hospice care was somewhat understood.  Most of us felt hospice looks after people’s physical, emotional and physcosocial needs as well as providing support to whānau members.  But less than half of us realised hospice helps care for our spiritual needs too (47%)

Nearly half of Kiwis were uncertain whether Hospice helps with Assisted Dying (47%).

“As an organisation Hospice New Zealand does not support assisted dying.” says Mr Naylor.

“But we respect everyone has a choice.  Ours is a philosophy of care and hospice supports patients, family and whānau regardless of a wish for assisted dying.”

While hospice care at home is practised across the country, 56% of us have experienced an in patient service compared to 49% for a community based/ at home service. Maori were more likely to have experienced community based hospice care.

The study showed Hospice still has a way to go to bust some myths.

“52 % see hospice as a place to go and die.  This suggests people are reluctant to access hospice earlier even though we know the earlier people access the holistic services the more fully they get to live until they die.”

There were also some significant differences within demographic groups. New Zealand European had stronger perceptions of Hospice being a place people go to die, that the service was  not only available in a hospital, and it was for more than just pain management. While Māori held stronger to Hospice providing help for family members and carers. Female and those aged 50+ years also held stronger views towards these the holistic nature of Hospice services, particularly in comparison to those aged 18-40 years.

Only 13% of us have made an Advanced Care Plan.  An Advanced Care Plan is commonly made when someone experiences serious illness or witnesses loved ones go through illness or death.  Those who had experienced hospice or who cared for someone in the past two years were more likely to have made a plan.  The key motivations for making an Advanced Plan was for easing the burden on family and helping to avoid conflict. A plan helped people clarify their wishes in how they wished to be cared for when dying.

The study also revealed that just under half of us (49%) have written a will.  Significant life events were key motivators for writing a Will. These mainly involved, having children, buying property, getting married, divorced, illness, experiencing death of a loved one and observing a bad experience when a will was not in place.

To read the full report, visit our research page

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