What to Expect When Your Loved One Is Dying
Each person's journey to death is unique. Some people have a very gradual decline; others will fade quickly.
As death approaches, your role is to be present, provide comfort, and reassure your loved one with soothing words and actions that help maintain their comfort and dignity.
When your loved one's health care team recognizes that he or she is likely within 6 months of dying, they may recommend switching to hospice, a more specialized care for people with a terminal illness who are expected to die.
Your loved one will still get treatment for pain relief and comfort, but hospice also offers emotional and spiritual support for them as well as you and close family.
Signs That Death Is Near
There are changes you can expect to see as an adult body stops working. These are a normal part of dying.
Children and teens have a similar process, but it can be harder to predict. They often stay fairly active and continue to ask a lot of tough-to-answer questions.
1 to 3 months before death, your loved one is likely to:
- Sleep or doze more
- Eat and drink less
- Withdraw from people and stop doing things they used to enjoy
- Talk less (but if they're a child, more)
1 to 2 weeks before death, the person may feel tired and drained all the time, so much that they don't leave their bed. They could have:
- Different sleep-wake patterns
- Little appetite and thirst
- Fewer and smaller bowel movements and less pee
- More pain
- Changes in blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate
- Body temperature ups and downs that may leave their skin cool, warm, moist, or pale
- Congested breathing from the buildup in the back of their throat
- Confusion or seem to be in a daze
Breathing trouble can be distressing for family members, but often it isn't painful and can be managed. Pain can be treated, too. But your loved one may have a hard time taking medicine by mouth.
Hallucinations and visions, especially of long-gone loved ones, can be comforting. If seeing and talking to someone who isn't there makes the person who's dying happier, you don't need to try to convince them that they aren't real. It may upset them and make them argue and fight with you.