If your loved one is nearing the end of their life, you might find yourself wondering if you might be in their final days. Your role as a caregiver could last anywhere from weeks to years depending on your loved one’s health. Though there are ways of estimating life expectancy for your loved ones, nothing can be said for sure. The only certain thing is that eventually, the person will pass. Some people’s health may decline gradually, others may fade quickly. Regardless, it’s important to know the signs of death and be prepared.
Unsurprisingly, as individuals become less active, their appetites also change. Becoming less active means that your loved one requires less energy and therefore their body demands less food and drink. If you are someone who is caring for a loved one and you notice that their appetite changes significantly, try to make sure that they stay hydrated and offer them food when they do express hunger. Sometimes, right before death, the elderly and terminally ill may stop eating altogether. In these cases, you can keep their lips from drying out by applying lip balm. This can make them more comfortable.
If you do notice your loved one not eating as much, try to not force them to eat. They will be able to naturally conserve energy and won’t require as much food as you might think. One alternative is to try ice chips or frozen juice chips. Watching your loved one refuse to eat as much as they used to can be very difficult to accept. You may have been the one that prepared meals for your loved one or maybe cooking and eating together was a way of providing comfort. Still, try to let your loved one choose their eating habits. Forcing them to eat or drink will only make them uncomfortable.
Changes in Sleeping Patterns
Another sign of death is the change in a person’s sleeping patterns. In the last couple of months leading up to death, your loved one may spend more time sleeping. As the person’s body starts to shut down, it becomes weaker and less energetic and they will feel the need to sleep more. In addition, the person may become less responsive and communicative and also have a difficult time waking up. Try to let your loved one sleep as much as possible.
When they are awake, it can be helpful to get them out of bed to avoid bedsores. If they are unresponsive, check-in to see if they can actually hear you. Do not shake them or try to rouse them if they are unresponsive. Often, patients may become unconscious before they pass. Talk to them, hold their hand, and be as supportive and loving as possible.
Becoming Less Social
As your loved one becomes weaker and has less energy, they may start to withdraw from social situations. Feeling tired often leads to becoming less social. Try not to be offended. Dying can be an extremely uncomfortable process, it is no wonder that your loved one may not want to interact with others during this time. Ask them when they feel up to seeing relatives and schedule visits according to that.
Changes in Vital Signs
There are several ways in which a person’s vital signs may change as they approach death. Their blood pressure may drop. Their breathing and heartbeat could become irregular or hard to detect. Urine may be brown because their kidneys are shutting down. Seeing these changes in a loved one’s vital signs can be very upsetting and painful. Still, try your best to be prepared and focus on the dying person.
Changing Skin Color
Change in skin color is also known as mottling and can be one of the signs of death. This is when a person’s skin becomes darker, gray, or bluish. This will be especially noticeable on the person’s extremities.
Changing Toilet Habits
As we discussed before, a dying person will be drinking and eating less. This, understandably, leads to changes in their bowel movements. They will urinate and pass solid waste less often. Eventually, if they stop eating and drinking completely, they may not go to the bathroom at all. You may want to speak to the hospital staff about a catheter. It may be helpful in making the dying person more comfortable.
Along with the reduced bowel movements, the dying loved one can lose control of their urinary and bowel functions. Make sure that you are keeping them clean by asking the hospice nurse for guidance. You can use disposable pads, change their clothing frequently, and follow health care professionals’ advice.
As your loved ones get closer to death, they will also experience weakening muscles. This can lead to them not being able to do small, daily tasks such as changing positions in their hospital bed or reaching out to pick up their glass of water.
Weakening muscles can also be coupled with involuntary movements or myoclonic jerks. These muscle spasms are not painful but can be upsetting for both the dying person and their family members. There are certain medications that may help alleviate this symptom.
Changes in Body Temperature
In the period of time before a person passes – usually a couple of days in advance, their blood circulation reduces, and most of the blood flow is focused on internal organs. This leads to decreased body temperature because blood is no longer flowing to the extremities. This, in turn, can mean that the person’s body will be cold to the touch.
On the other hand, another symptom before death can be a fever. An increase in temperature is normal and if you’re worried, you should ask the hospice nurse for help. Simply placing a cool, slightly damp towel on the dying person’s forehead may be the only thing you need to do.
When the person is dying, they may experience confusion about simple things such as time or place. If this happens, remind them about their surroundings, make sure you keep speaking with them, explain why you’re giving them medication or changing their position in bed. It can also be helpful to identify yourself before you speak. You should also introduce any visitors who come to say goodbye. Try your best to be calm and reassuring. Along with confusion, dying loved ones can experience hallucinations. Try not to be alarmed by this. It is best to let them have visions and not correct them – this can only lead to additional distress.
Another one of the signs of death can be changes in breathing patterns. This is one of the most common symptoms before death. Your loved one could show signs of having trouble breathing. Their breathing may speed up or slow down, they may be gasping for air or even pause between breaths. This change in breathing is caused by a decrease in circulation and should not cause pain or be bothersome for the dying person. So, try not to worry too much if you notice this symptom in your loved one. If you are concerned about the person’s changing breathing patterns, then you can speak with their doctor and ask for advice. They may suggest that you sit up the person or turn them on their side to help with breathing. Doctors may also recommend oxygen therapy or a cool-mist humidifier.
Changes in Vision
Since a decrease in eyesight is one of the common symptoms people experience before death, you should try to have soft, indirect lights in the room. This way, they will not stare directly into the light and can avoid glare, letting them see as clearly as possible.
Near death, a person’s pain levels may also increase. It will be difficult to see your loved one in pain and hear them express serious discomfort. By administering pain medication, your doctor may be able to make the dying person more comfortable. You can also consider alternative methods such as massage, relaxation techniques, music therapy, or death doulas.
Another one of the signs of death is restlessness. Dying individuals may start making repetitive motions in bed. If this happens, it’s most likely due to a decrease in oxygen. Don’t try to keep them still; instead, speak with them quietly and naturally. Try to distract them as best as possible.
There are several things that will indicate that a person has died:
- Their heartbeat has stopped,
- They no longer have a pulse,
- They are not breathing,
- Their eyes are fixed or partially shut,
- There is no muscle tension.
After you’ve confirmed that a person has passed, you and other family members may want to spend some time saying goodbye and sitting by their bedside. Afterward, we suggest that you contact a funeral home, which will be able to remove the person’s body and start preparations for a funeral. For extensive advice on what to do when a person dies, you can read our article here.
Each person’s experience in the days before death will be different. Both physical and mental changes can be obviously present, barely there, or entirely absent. If some of these signs are noticeable, this does not mean that the person is necessarily dying. However, it’s important to be prepared even if you notice small changes in the person’s condition. Hopefully, knowing the signs of death can help you feel less anxious about the different symptoms that your loved one may experience.
- What are the Signs That Someone is Close to Death? Medicalnewstoday.com, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320794
- A Guide to Understanding End-of-Life Signs & Symptoms, Crossroadshospice.com, https://www.crossroadshospice.com/hospice-resources/end-of-life-signs/
- What to Expect When Your Loved One is Dying, Webmd.com, https://www.webmd.com/palliative-care/journeys-end-active-dying#2
- End-of-Life Care: Signs That Death Is Near, Agingcare.com, https://www.agingcare.com/articles/end-of-life-care-signs-that-death-is-near-443741.htm