As your loved one nears the end of his or her life, you may notice changes in sleeping, eating and breathing as body systems begin to slow down. The patient may take in minimal food and liquid, which will progress to the point that all he or she desires is to keep the lips and mouth moist.
Sleep may increase to the point where he or she will become comatose. Breathing may become more irregular, perhaps even with short periods of apnea. Congestion and a rattling sound may become apparent because of the inability to cough up saliva and secretions. Hearing and vision will decrease.
It's not unusual for a dying person to have visions, especially of others that are already deceased. It's best not to correct or express doubt with your loved one. Instead, offer support and ask about what he or she sees and what the person in the vision is saying.
Be sure to inform the hospice team about any of the above changes so they can confirm that these changes are, in fact, due to end of life.
As you loved one's life draws to its close, there are things you can do to make him or her more comfortable.
- Talk to your loved one even if it seems as though he or she can't hear you.
- Try to fulfill any requests such as favorite foods, music or pictures.
- Use pillows or adjust the bed to make your loved one comfortable.
- Wash your loved one's face and hands gently with a warm washcloth and apply lotion to keep the skin from becoming dry.
- Help your loved one turn or change positions to prevent bed sores and cramps.
Talk to the hospice team about other things you can do to care for your loved one and what to expect when he or she passes away.
- End-of-Life Care (Children and Young Adults)
- End of the Caregiver Role
- Palliative Care, Hospice and End of Life Resources