What is Active Dying?

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Elderly woman being comforted by a nurse
Published:  August 1, 2021

The prospect of losing a loved one is very difficult. When a patient is in the final stages of a terminal illness, their families may wonder about the signs of active dying so they can be fully prepared. Many people will turn to hospice during this time to increase the patient’s comfort and lend support to their families.

What Is Active Dying?

The final phase of the dying process is known as active dying. This follows the early and middle stages of dying and marks the conclusion of a person’s life.

How Long Is the Active Dying Phase?

The pre-active stage of dying may last for around three weeks but the active stage only lasts for around three days in general.

Patients who are actively dying will usually show many of the symptoms that indicate death is approaching. They may be unresponsive, and their blood pressure typically drops significantly.

How Can You Predict Active Dying?

It is difficult to predict active dying beyond looking for the symptoms that many patients display during this phase. However, it is important to understand that a patient might not exhibit all of the signs of active dying. On the other hand, some patients may state that they are dying. Their position might become more rigid, and there may be other symptoms that are specific to their terminal illness.

What Are The Symptoms Of Active Dying?

Outlined below is a list of some of the symptoms that a person may experience during the active dying stage. However, it is important to keep in mind that each person’s experience will be different and not all patients will experience all of these symptoms. This list may be used to help caregivers recognize the signs of active dying, but it is not a substitute for medical advice.

  • The patient’s blood pressure may drop significantly.
  • The patient may be in a coma or a semi-coma, and it may not be possible to wake them.
  • The patient may experience hallucinations, agitation, and delirium.
  • The patient may have a buildup of fluid in their lungs that could lead to unusual gurgling sounds.
  • The patient’s breathing patterns might be irregular, and they may experience long pauses in breathing.
  • The patient’s skin may change color and their extremities might feel cold to the touch.
  • The patient’s urine might be discolored, or they may experience a decrease in urine or urinary and bowel incontinence.

How Can You Help Someone in The Active Dying Phase?

There are many ways that you can help someone who is in the active dying phase, even if they do not seem aware of your presence. Talking to them reassuringly and remaining calm is always advisable, and you can touch the patient gently if they normally like being touched.

If the patient is restless, medication may help. Keep in mind that patients who appear unresponsive may still be able to hear you, so it is important to speak respectfully and positively at all times.

If the patient is experiencing incontinence, you may supply them with underbody pads or diapers. Be sure to change their pads or diapers when they become soiled.

When a patient’s breathing becomes irregular, consider elevating the head of their bed to place them in a more comfortable position. If that is not possible, use pillows to elevate their head. Some patients may need to be turned onto their side.

When Should Hospice Be Contacted?

Many hospice providers say that if you are questioning whether it is time to call hospice, there is a good chance that your loved one is already eligible for this extra layer of specialized support. Even if they are not eligible yet, it is always a good idea to gather information and be prepared for when the time comes.

Although many families wait to call hospice until the patient is clearly in their final days or weeks of life, patients can often start receiving the care offered by hospice much earlier. The specialized nursing care, medical equipment, and supplies related to a loved one’s terminal illness can make a big difference to their comfort level during the final phase of their life. In addition, it can provide valuable support to families and caregivers during this very difficult time.

If you notice changes in your loved one’s mental abilities, progressive weight loss, an increase in falls, infections, frequent visits to the hospital or emergency room, or a decline in your loved one’s ability to perform daily tasks such as dressing, walking, using the bathroom or eating, it is time to get in touch with hospice.

To access hospice care, a patient must have been diagnosed with a terminal illness by a physician and given less than six months to live should the illness follow its typical path. If the patient lives longer than six months, they may continue receiving hospice care if a physician re-certifies that they are eligible. It may be discontinued at any time and resumed at a later date.

Work With Traditions Health

If you believe that your loved one may be ready for the additional layer of support and comfort offered by hospice care, get in touch with Traditions Health to find out how they can help.

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