Help families and patients cope with long-term terminal illness

Today’s terminal diagnosis requires a new toolset. ‘Saying Goodbye’ was written to reduce confusion and anxiety throughout uncertain health.

"Up until as recently as 40 years ago, sudden death was a fairly common event," Professor Nowinski says. "At that time a ‘terminal" diagnosis generally meant that death would follow relatively quickly. Today sudden death is more the exception than the rule, while having a ‘terminal" diagnosis is quickly evolving into something akin to having a chronic illness."

And it"s often the medical professionals trying to help these patients and their families who are facing the most challenging of times, whether it"s early or late in the person"s diagnosis. The authors designed the book as a "road map of what patients and families can expect following a terminal diagnosis, combined with specific guidelines for what to do (and not do) can ease anxiety and stress for everyone," Professor Nowinski advises.

This guide, the authors say, can reduce stress and help families and patients with the multitude of decisions that need to be made. Reduced anxiety for the patients and loved ones can help build more effective relationships with medical professionals as well.

"It can even improve treatment outcome, for example, when complementary treatments are discussed and incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan," he says.

"The book allows patients and families to begin to take control in what otherwise can be a very out-of-control and confusing situation. It can also improve and streamline communication between patients, their designated medical proxies, medical personnel, and case managers."

Written by psychologists Barbara Okun, Ph.D., and Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., the book is featured on The New York Times "New Old Age" blog.

This Harvard Health Publications book not only covers the emotional toll on the patients, caregivers, and loved ones but also offers practical suggestions such as questions for specialists and when seeking second opinions.

"Saying Goodbye: How Families Can Find Renewal Through Loss" offers answers where medicine and modern life have yet to advance.

Barbara Okun, Ph.D. is a professor of counseling psychology at Northeastern University and has maintained a clinical psychology/family therapy practice 30+ years.

Having worked with individuals and families for 20+ years, Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. is a nationally known psychologist and writes for the Huffington Post.