What to expect at the end of life

As a person approaches the end of life, he/she will experience changes in the breathing.  Try not to be alarmed by the changes of breathing patterns.  Each person behaves differently and as long as he/she is comfortable, it is best to let nature takes its course.  This article helps to give caregivers some reassurance when faced with a love one at the end of life.

Click to view Marie Curie video on What to Expect at the End of Life

Feeling Less Energy

As the body becomes weaker, the person usually needs to rest or sleep more.  The attention span becomes shorter and he/she is not able to talk as much as before because of the lack of energy.   The person may withdraw into a shell and may seem to be more quiet. 

Eating or Drinking Less

The person’s appetite decreases and he/she will gradually eat or drink less than normal because the energy requirement is reduced.  The weight will decrease as a result and the person will become thinner and look more frail.

Feeling Confused or Disorientated

Some people may feel confused or disorientated and not be able to remember or recognise family members.  The person may feel agitated sometimes or may lose consciousness on and off towards the end of life.

Losing control of the bowel or bladder control

As the muscles relax towards end of life, the person may lose control of the bladder or bowel and wet or soil the bed.  It will help if caregivers can use adult diapers to help keep the person clean and dry.

Image Medical News Today

Changes in Breathing

Noisy Breathing. There is usually mucus build up in the airways and lungs because the of lying down a lot and not moving or coughing clear the throat.  There is often a rattling sound during the breathing and is also known as the ‘death rattle’.  It may help to change the position of the person or perform some gentle suction or physiotherapy to help clear the mucus.

Feeling Breathless.  Some people may feel breathless or short of breath (known as dyspnoea) due to fluid in the lungs or deteriorating heart function.  This may be exacerbated by anxiety or distress so it helps if you sit beside them to provide some reassurance and companionship.  It may help if you improve the air circulation by opening the window or turning on the fan.

Shallow Breathing (Cheyne-Stokes breathing).  As the moment of death draws nearer, the person’s breathing usually slows down and gradually become irregular.  There will be long pauses between each breath.  The breath may then suddenly improve again as if nothing happened.  These pauses gradually become longer as the death becomes imminent.   This is the time if you wish to get the family together, to be present to say the final farewell.

Do reach out to a palliative care doctor, nurse or cancer support team for support

Disclaimer. TELEME blog posts contains general information about health conditions and treatments. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. 

If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or other professional healthcare providers. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

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