Dying is a process. Sometimes the process takes time. For a while, signs that death is near may come and go. Family and friends may need help understanding the signs that mean a person is close to death.
What You Might See
As a person gets closer to death, the person might:
Have less pain
Have trouble swallowing
Have blurry vision
Have trouble hearing
Eat or drink less
Lose control of urine and stool
Hear or see something and think it is something else, misunderstand
Talk to people who are not in the room
Talk about going to a trip or leaving
Have cool hands, arms, feet, or legs
Have blue or gray nose, mouth, fingers, or toes
Have breathing that sounds wet, maybe with bubbling sounds
Have breathing changes: breathing may stop for a bit, then several quick, deep breaths
Stop responding to touch or sounds, go into a coma
What You Can Do
If you don’t understand what you see, ask a hospice team member.
Let family and friends, even children, visit, a few at a time.
Help the patient get into a comfortable position.
Give medicine to treat symptoms.
If the patient is not drinking, wet their mouth with ice chips or a sponge.
If the patient is hot, put a cool wet cloth on his or her forehead.
Keep a light on. If the patient has blurry vision, darkness can be scary.
Play soft music the patient likes.
Touch the patient. Hold hands.
Talk calmly to the patient. Even if you get no response, he or she may still hear you.
Write down what the patient says. This may comfort you later.
Let the patient sleep.
When to Call the Doctor
Call the doctor if your loved one shows signs of pain or anxiety.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.