Near-Death Experiences in Nursing

As a nurse you may care for a patient who has had a near-death experience (NDE).

Your response could shape how the patient is affected from that experience.

In this article, you will learn what a NDE involves and how you can respond in order to have a positive effect on your patient.

Definition of NDE

There is much debate as to the definition of NDE and this stems back to the lack of consensus on the definition of death.

A pioneer in understanding NDE, Raymond A. Moody, Jr., MD, defined NDE in his book Life after Life, as falling into three distinct categories:

1. The experiences of persons who were resuscitated after having been thought, adjudged, or pronounced clinically dead by their doctors.

2. The experiences of persons who, in the course of accidents or severe injury or illness, came very close to physical death.

3. The experience of persons who, as they died, told of other people who were present. Later, these people reported the content of the death experience.

Prevalence & Characteristics

NDE are not as uncommon as you may think.

One in five individuals have experienced a NDE, and an estimated eight million to 15 million Americans have reported experiencing one.

Of course, these numbers may be underestimated, as some individuals are afraid to speak of their NDE for fear of being called “crazy.”

No two NDE have reported to be identical, but all appear to have similar characters. Some of these similarities are:

  • a sense of great emotions;
  • a feeling of being outside of one’s body;
  • movement through a tunnel of light or darkness;
  • a life review;
  • meeting deceased loved ones; and
  • seeing spiritual beings.

Nursing Interventions

If you suspect your patient has had a NDE it is important to place your beliefs and values aside and listen to the patient. Some suggestions to assess your patient for a NDE after an acute medical event or trauma include:

Actively watching for non-verbal and verbal cues. Your patient may be afraid to come right out and speak of their experience. He may say, “I had a strange dream” or “I thought my past relative was here with me.” He may be afraid to be alone or seem disoriented.

Listening. If your patient starts to tell of the NDE, do not interrupt and allow the patient to say what is on his mind.

Being present. Be quiet and still. Make eye contact, if appropriate you may hold the patients hand. Show empathy.

Team support. If the patient is okay with sharing the NDE, offer guidance in way to proceed. Make referrals to councilors, clergy, or support groups.

Answering questions. Your patient may ask questions surrounding the life-threatening situation that caused the NDE. Answer honestly and openly. Validate that you believe that they had a NDE.

As a caregiver, you may be the first person that a patient who has experienced a NDE attempts to talk with. Providing a safe psychological environment is key ensuring the patient can be open to explore their feelings and thoughts on the NDE.

References for this article can be accessed here.

Michelle Brady is a staff registered nurse at CRI, Inc., Thomaston, Conn.

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