What Happens During the Final Days of Life?

End of life is a confusing time for both patients and their families. We all understand that end of life means the final phase in life but, oftentimes we don’t know what this phase entails. The responsibilities of the primary caregiver will be altered significantly as a patient’s condition continues to worsen.

Hospice care professionals can help families to better understand the dying process and most importantly, can help to ensure that the dying patient is as comfortable as possible. This article will provide caregivers useful information such as a general overview of signs of approaching death, how to provide better care, when to call for help, and what to expect immediately following death.

Signs and Symptoms of An Approaching Death

The dying process can differ by individual, but there are several signs and symptoms that many dying patients display as they approach death. Knowing certain signs and symptoms can help caregivers and families of a dying patient to better prepare themselves both emotionally and organizationally. It is always recommended for a patient’s primary caregiver to discuss the dying process with their hospice support team for more comprehensive information. However, below is a general overview of signs that a patient may be entering the final weeks of life:

As the dying process continues, the patient will exhibit certain physical symptoms, especially during the final days of life. Again, it is recommended for families and caregivers to discuss the dying process with the patient’s attending physician or hospice team for a deeper understanding of what to look for. That being said, here is a general overview of the signs and symptoms that a patient may be entering the final days of life:

It is important to remember that the passing of each individual will be different. Which symptoms occur and the order of the symptoms may vary. The best thing for caretakers and families to do is to provide the best care that they are able while these signs and symptoms are occurring during the final weeks and days of life.

Providing Care and Comfort

Family members should remember that dying is a natural process that will occur on its own timeline. However, there are some steps that caregivers and families can take to make a dying patient’s surroundings more peaceful. Because patient needs will vary, your hospice care team will help advise you as to what specific actions should be taken to enhance the level of comfort of the patient. Below is an overview of potential steps caregivers and families can take to make a patient more comfortable:

Helping to Alleviate Pain

It will be very difficult for a patient to remain peaceful and calm if they are experiencing severe pain. Effective pain management is essential for patients suffering from illness. Hospice care professionals are trained to provide assistance with pain management during end-of-life. Pain management is a critical focus of hospice professionals who will take all reasonable measures needed to provide a patient with relief from pain.

When to Call for Help

When caring for a dying patient at home, it is important to know when to call and ask for help. Open communication with the patient’s physician and hospice care team will allow the patient to receive the best care possible. We have included several different scenarios which would require intervention from the patient’s health care or hospice team. Please remember, this list is by no means exhaustive, which is why clear and open communication with medical professionals is vital:

What Happens Immediately Following Death?

When death does occur, the patient’s muscles will relax, their breathing will completely stop, their heart will stop beating, and they will have no pulse. It is impossible to predict how a caregiver or family will react to the death of a loved one. It is both common and normal for caregivers to feel a sense of shock following the death of their loved one.

Caregivers are required to notify their hospice support team and the patient’s attending physician of a patient’s death. Although medical professionals have to be notified, a natural death is not considered an emergency. This means that caregivers and families may decide to spend some time to sit peacefully with their loved one or with one another before notifying anyone. This decision can only be made by the patient’s family.

Traditions Health Is Ready to Support You

End of life is a confusing and emotionally challenging time for patients and their families. Although end of life is natural, this doesn’t make the process less intimidating. Patients and their families should remember that support is available. Hospice care professionals can help guide patients and their families through this process and most importantly, ensure that a patient able to spend their remaining time peacefully and comfortably. To learn more about how hospice can support your family, contact Traditions Health today.