Why Do People Have a Burst of Energy Before Death?
There is an intriguing phenomenon that has been reported for centuries, but it has only recently begun to be studied and understood: dying people who experience a sudden burst of energy before death. They experience brief periods of clarity, with symptoms varying from lucid conversations with family and friends to remembering facts from the distant past. While the exact cause of this curious effect is unknown, theories suggest it is an internal defense mechanism allowing terminally ill patients to make their last moments count through meaningful interactions or reminiscing. Further research and study into this phenomenon may help us understand why and how this state occurs just before the end of a person’s life.
What Is the Burst of Energy Before Death Called?
This burst of energy before death is also known as “terminal lucidity” or “rallying.” Although there is considerable, general interest in this phenomenon, unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of scientific research done on the matter.
However, one study on terminal lucidity was published in 2011 by scientists from the University of Virginia and the University of Iceland. This study involved patients with conditions including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and strokes. The results of this study suggest that terminal lucidity may be caused by a neurologic process that is different from the ones that typically occur in a so-called “normal” brain.
Until more in-depth scientific research is done on the matter, information about terminal lucidity is mostly anecdotal from family members and medical professionals. This lack of scientific data doesn’t make the phenomenon less real for patients and their loved ones, however, and it’s understandable that a lot of questions remain about the condition.
People Who Experience Terminal Lucidity
Terminal lucidity occurs in many people, and it’s impossible to know if someone will have this experience. However, you may be surprised that even people with Alzheimer’s and dementia have reportedly experienced these unexplained changes before dying.
Another recent study analyzed reports of 124 patients with dementia, all of whom experienced something called paradoxical lucidity. In other words, they spontaneously regained their memory and verbal ability. Most of these patients died within hours or days after this happened, which makes these experiences a form of terminal lucidity.
Of course, terminal lucidity doesn’t happen to just people with cognitive problems. People of all ages and backgrounds can experience this state, although not everyone does.
Burst of Energy Before Death: How Long Does It Last?
Terminal lucidity ranges in its duration. Sometimes, people who are dying experience this surge in clarity for just a few minutes before they pass away. Other people may feel this change hours or even days before the moment of their death. There’s no way to predict if or when a person may begin to experience terminal lucidity, and it’s impossible to know how long it will last if it does occur.
What People Experience During Terminal Lucidity
Ruby Gramlow, a registered nurse and certified hospice and palliative nurse, has stated that people close to death often see visions of their loved ones, including pets or family members. They may also see religious figures such as angels, although nonreligious people may also have visions. A dying person may also experience:
- Improved communication
- Increased hunger
- Increased thirst
- Anxiety that comes from the surge in energy
While someone is experiencing terminal lucidity, they will likely also display other signs they’re approaching the end of their life. For example, they may have what’s sometimes referred to as the death rattle, which is a gurgling sound that comes from the throat.
Their skin may become clammy, they may reject food and water, and their eyes may begin to glaze over. All of these signs are normal for people who are in the process of dying.
Some professional caregivers have noted that experiencing terminal lucidity seems to be a way for the dying to process their transition. These caregivers mention that the person often wants to try to fix broken relationships and speak with their family. Other things medical professionals have noted is that the person sometimes reaches for objects no one else can see or has conversations with an unknown person.
Things Family Members Can Do
Preparing yourself for the possibility that your loved one may suddenly seem to get better in the end stages of their life can eliminate false hope for a miracle cure. It’s tempting to believe the person is making a sudden recovery, but keep in mind that an increase in energy is often a sign of a person’s final hours approaching.
Gramlow suggests that when a dying person appears to be hallucinating, it’s helpful for family members to support these experiences. She suggests that you refrain from trying to convince the person that what they’re seeing isn’t real. Try and form a good memory from this experience, as it gives you the chance to speak with your loved one and say your goodbyes.
You can also use this opportunity to make the person as emotionally comfortable as possible in their final moments. Talk about some of your most precious memories, gently sing your favorite songs together, or simply enjoy one another’s presence during this time.
There are also a few things you can do to make them physically comfortable, such as:
- Putting lip balm on their lips to prevent dryness
- Swabbing their mouth with damp sponges to moisten it
- Apply lotion
- Hold hands with them
- Speak comforting words
Many people experience terminal lucidity, and it’s typically considered to be a very positive event since it gives a dying person a chance to speak to loved ones in their final moments. Unfortunately, no one knows if or when someone will experience this state. Although some family members may become hopeful their loved one will make a recovery, it’s important to remember the person typically dies within hours or possibly days after the experience.
- “Terminal Lucidity: A Review And a Case Collection,” National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21764150/
- “Hospice Nurse Explains the Surge of Energy Often Seen at End of Life,” Hospice Red River Valley, https://www.hrrv.org/blog/hospice-nurse-explains-the-surge-of-energy-often-seen-at-end-of-life/
- “Days and Hours Before Death – Signs and Symptoms,” Kaiser Permanente, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://hospice-ncal.kaiserpermanente.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/KP-NCAL-Hospice_Days-and-Hours-Before-Death.pdf
- “Spontaneous Remission of Dementia Before Death: Results From a Study on Paradoxical Lucidity,” American Psychological Association, https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/wp-content/uploads/sites/360/2021/04/terminal-lucidity-PC.pdf
- “Deathbed Visions: Social Workers’ Experiences, Perspectives, Therapeutic Responses, and Direction for Practice Therapeutic Responses, and Direction for Practice,” St. Catherine University, https://sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=msw_papers
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