Every person’s transition as they die will be different, as some pass away quickly and painlessly, while others may experience gradual decline and, unfortunately, prolonged suffering.

To ease the transition for a dying loved one, it’s important to know how to provide comfort, support, honesty, and reassurance throughout the process.

When Hospice Care Is Needed?

If it becomes clear that your loved one likely has several months of life left, his or her healthcare team may suggest placement in hospice care. Hospice can provide specialized healthcare services for those who are at the end of life without the possibility of recovery.

In hospice care, loved ones will still receive treatment to maximize comfort throughout their transition, but it can also provide additional spiritual or emotional support for everyone involved in their passing.

How to Determine When a Loved One Is in the Process of Dying?

As a close family member or friend’s health begins to deteriorate, there are some signs to look for that are a normal part of the dying process. The following are signs that you may be able to identify in adults, but they may differ for children and teenagers.

One to Three Months Leading Up to Death

During these early stages, you’re likely to notice one or more of the following:

  • More sleep 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Talking less 
  • Withdrawal from people along with activities they normally find enjoyable 

One to Two Weeks Leading Up to Death

At this point, your loved one may experience severe fatigue, along with the following signs:

  • Dramatic changes in sleep patterns 
  • Diminished thirst and appetite 
  • Additional pain 
  • Minimal urination and bowel movements 
  • Changing heart rate, breathing, or blood pressure 
  • Confusion or a decrease in responsiveness 
  • Increasing and decreasing body temperature that can affect body heat and appearance 
  • Congestion 

Keep in mind that while pain is treatable, it may become difficult to administer medication orally. Also, although breathing issues could be alarming, they typically don’t come with pain and are treatable.

Visions or Hallucinations

Some people during the dying process may experience hallucinations or visions, which are often comforting. It may be best to avoid convincing your loved one that any of these vivid experiences are unreal, particularly if they find solace in them and could become upset.

In the Final Days and Hours

As your loved one approaches his or her final moments in those last days or hours, you may notice that they completely cease eating or drinking, urination and bowel movements stop, as do visible reactions to pain.

Some other signs that could signal the end could also include glazing or buildup of tears in the eyes, decreased body temperature, irregular or difficult-to-detect heartbeat and pulse, blue-purple skin color on hands, feet, and knees, or slowed breathing and gasping.

The person may also periodically lose and regain consciousness.

What to Do in Those Final Moments

During the last days or hours preceding death, you may notice that your loved one experiences a certain level of confusion. They may also appear to struggle and could strike out, attempt to leave their bed, or call out to family and friends. On the other hand, some could experience moments of clarity and lucidity. Regardless, it’s important to do what you can to maximize comfort during this stage.

Some steps you can take as the final hours approach is to keep the room well-lit but ambient, make sure the space is quiet and tranquil, and provide gentle physical contact for reassurance. Medication may also be administered to help further ease the transition.

Saying Final Goodbyes

During your loved one’s final moments, it will come time to call in family and friends to say their goodbyes. Throughout this process, the person’s hospice care team can help make sure that you and your family are prepared for what will happen.

Oftentimes, a person won’t pass away while everyone’s gathered. They may only die once everyone has said their goodbyes and left, so don’t feel like you need to be there at the very end.

Knowing what to look for and how to approach a person’s death can help ease the dying process for you, your loved one, and the rest of the family. You can also seek help from caregivers for additional support throughout the transition.

 

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