Death doulas are available for people who are approaching the end of their lives, whether it is because of advanced age or illness. The service these professionals provide can help families and individuals who need additional supportive care. Adding a death doula to your end-of-life care plan may help you and your family feel like someone has your back as you face this trying time.
What Is a Death Doula?
A death doula, or end-of-life doula, is a person who serves as a companion for a dying person and typically assists their loved ones in providing comprehensive and supportive care. Death doulas have existed in the United States since the late 1900s, and many families find them helpful as they face the loss of a loved one.
What Services Do They Provide?
Death doulas provide patient and family-focused care. Their services seek to support end-of-life transition for the dying as well as their friends and loved ones. This can be as simple as serving as an objective confidant for the patient or guiding the patient or their family members through difficult conversations. Some may also offer energy work, art therapy, or support with the logistics of funeral services.
Here are some of the services that you can expect if you add an end-of-life doula to your end-of-life care plan:
- Help ensure that the patient’s spiritual or traditional death rituals are respected, or help the individual create new rituals if they desire
- Give the family respite care
- Assist family caregivers with such tasks as patient hygiene, lifting or feeding the patient, and other non-medical care needs
- Help the patient with advance health care planning
- Emotional support
What Training Does a Death Doula Need?
Death doula services are not federally regulated, and there is little formal training to become an end-of-life doula. However, there are some private organizations through which individuals interested in getting pertinent training can get just that. The National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NEDA) offers free materials where people can learn about “core competencies” that will help them serve in the position, including:
- Communication skills
- Interpersonal skills to interact with the dying individual and their families
The following organizations provide reputable death doula training:
What Is the Difference Between Death Doulas and Hospice Care Workers?
Death doulas do not replace hospice care workers or provide the same services as hospice care does. Remember, end-of-life doulas do not provide medical care, but holistic care for the dying and their families.
Hospice care workers strictly provide medical care for patients who have terminal illnesses and who are receiving only comfort care. Hospice services are regulated by the laws that control Medicaid insurance services. Because hospice care workers focus on providing medical care, their time with the patient can be limited.
Death doulas and hospice care workers work in tandem to help dying patients and their families get the total care that they need to make the transition from death to life peaceful.
How Much Do Death Doula Services Cost?
The price of death doula services is not covered by Medicaid or Medicare and likely not covered by most private insurance providers. Death doula services can range from $25 to $100 per hour. Since the cost of these services will be paid out-of-pocket, it is important for people who want to incorporate this service into their end-of-life care plan to budget accordingly.
Support for Seniors Who Do Not Have Another Support System
For individuals without children or other support in their family, death doulas can also be particularly invaluable. According to the United States Census Bureau, 15.2 million Americans aged 55 and older do not have children. Traditionally, seniors rely on their adult children to care for them as they age. However, seniors without children may opt to seek out support through death doulas as they reach the end of their lives.
When Should I Get a Death Doula?
A death doula can enter your life at any point, but most people search for death doula services when they experience a life-changing event. Individuals and families use death doula services typically when death is imminent or after receiving a terminal illness diagnosis. Some family members also use these services to cope after their loved one’s death.
Where Can I Find Death Doula Services?
If you are considering adding end-of-life doula services to your end-of-life care plan, you can find services in your area via the NEDA website.
Be sure to take any steps you can to ensure you have the care and support you need at this difficult time. If you or your loved ones are coping with end-of-life care decisions, there are other helpful tools and resources available. This might include seeking out grief support groups, hospice care, and respite care.
Having the right estate planning documents in place can prove just as crucial. Your estate planner can prepare or update your will, advance directive, and other key legal documents.