What to Expect When Someone Is Dying

| By Jodi Horton

This is a general guide to the processes you may experience as you or your loved approaches the time of death. Just as everyone has a very individual birth experience, the death of each person will also be unique. The changes may pass more rapidly or slowly than stated, and some changes may not even be noticeable. Ask your hospice team about any concerns or questions you may have.

In the Last Months

In the last months of life, a dying person may experience any of the following occurrences.

  • Need for more care due to greater weakness
  • Eating and drinking less
  • Increasing awareness that the dying time is near
  • Withdrawing from some relationships
  • Communicating less
  • Less interest in the larger world
  • Time for introspection and remembering
  • Sleeping more
  • Dreams or visions of a spiritual nature

In the Last Weeks to Days

You may see some of the following behaviors physical changes in the last weeks to days of death.

  • Disorientation, restlessness, confusion
  • Conversations with those who have died before; resolution of “forgotten” or buried emotions, perhaps even with uncharacteristic outbursts of anger or fear
  • Picking at the air or bedclothes
  • Sleeping more, responding less
  • Reduced or ceased eating and drinking
  • Fevers, changes in breathing, pulse and blood pressure
  • The body loses the capacity to swallow correctly, and choking or taking fluid into the lungs can occur
  • Possible congestion
  • Changes in skin color, temperature, and perspiration

In the Last Days to Hours

Symptoms of the previous weeks may intensify in the last days to hours of life.

  • There may be a surge of energy with intensified communication and interaction followed by a deeper release.
  • Pulse and blood pressure may become erratic.
  • Breathing patterns may change.
  • Drinking less, or not at all
  • Skin color and body temperature changes.
  • Nail beds, hands and feet, or other areas of skin may become bluish.
  • Eyes may become glassy, unfocused, dry or tearful.
  • Congestion may increase.
  • Urine may darken or cease.
  • Response to others is diminished or has stopped.

At the Moment of Death

  • Your loved one’s heartbeat and breathing cease.
  • All muscles relax
  • Eyes and mouth may remain open.
  • Eyes will be still.

Casa de la Luz Hospice provides hospice care to individuals in the Pima County and southern Pinal County area. If you, or someone you know, might benefit from hospice services, call us at (520) 544-9890 to schedule a free evaluation with one of our nurses.

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