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Signs of Death

If a person or loved one is elderly or has a terminal illness, knowing death may be near is often difficult to deal with or comprehend. Understanding what to expect may make things a little easier.

How to tell if Death is near

It is important for loved ones to recognize the signs that death may be near. These signs are explored below.

1. Decreasing appetite

As a person approaches death, they become less active. This means their body needs less energy than it did. They stop eating or drinking as much, as their appetite gradually reduces.

If a person is caring for a dying loved one who loses their appetite, they should let them eat when they feel hungry. Offering them ice pops helps them to stay hydrated.

A person may completely stop eating a few days before they die. When this happens, it helps to keep their lips moistened with lip balm, so that they are not uncomfortable.

2. Sleeping more

In the 2 or 3 months before a person dies, they may spend less time awake.

This lack of wakefulness is because their body's metabolism is becoming weaker. Without metabolic energy, a person will sleep a lot more.

If a person is caring for a dying loved one who is sleepy, they should make them comfortable and let them sleep. When their loved one does have energy, they should encourage them to move or get out of bed to help avoid bedsores.

3. Becoming less social

As a dying person's energy levels are reduced, they may not want to spend as much time with other people as they once did.

If a dying person is becoming less social, their loved ones should try not to be offended.

It is not unusual for a person to feel uncomfortable letting others see them losing their strength. If this is the case, it is advisable to arrange visits when the person dying is up to seeing someone.

4. Changing vital signs

As a person approaches death, their vital signs may change in the following ways:

  • blood pressure drops

  • breathing changes

  • heartbeat becomes irregular

  • heartbeat may be hard to detect

  • urine may be brown, tan, or rust-colored

A person's urine color changes because their kidneys are shutting down. Seeing this and the other changes in a loved one may be distressing. But these changes are not painful, so it may help to try not to focus overly on them.

5. Weakening muscles

In the days leading up to a person's death, the muscles may become weak.

Weak muscles mean the individual may not be able to carry out the small tasks that they were able to previously. Drinking from a cup or turning over in bed may no longer be tasks they can do.

That is why it is very important for loved ones to help the dying person lifting things or turning over in bed.

6. Dropping body temperature

In the days before a person dies, their circulation reduces so that blood is focused on their internal organs. This means very little blood is still flowing to their hands, feet, or legs.

Reduced circulation means a dying person's skin will be cold to the touch. Their skin may also look pale or mottled with blue & purple patches.

The person who is dying may not feel cold themselves. Offering them a blanket is a good idea if family thinks it's a good idea.

7. Experiencing confusion

When a person is dying their brain is still very much active. However, they may become confused or incoherent at times. This may happen if they lose track of what is happening around them.

The person caring for a loved one who is dying should make sure to keep talking to them. Explaining what is happening around them & introducing each visitor is important.

8. Changing breathing

A person who is dying may seem like they are having trouble breathing. Their breathing may suddenly change speed, they might gasp for air, or they may pause between breaths.

The person caring for their loved one, should try not to worry about this, it's usually not painful or bothersome.

9. Increasing pain

It may be difficult to come to terms with the unavoidable fact that a person's pain levels may increase as they near death.

Seeing a pained expression, or hearing a noise that sounds pained, is never easy.

A person caring for a dying loved one should speak to Hospice provider about options for pain medication to be administered. The doctor can try to make the person who is dying as comfortable as possible.

10. Hallucinations

It is not unusual for a person who is dying to experience some hallucinations or distorted visions.

Although this may seem concerning, a person caring for a dying loved one should not be alarmed. It is best not to try to correct them about these visions, as doing so may cause additional distress.


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