When the life of a loved one is nearing the end, it can be hard to know what to expect. Everybody experienced death at a different time and in a different manner – this complexity adds another layer of helplessness to the whole ordeal. For family members of somebody who is about to pass on, the concept of end-of-life can be a challenging concept to grapple with.
There are many decisions that need to be made during this stage. These can include decisions about medical treatment, funeral arrangements, and estate planning. Therefore, it is important to have open and honest conversations with your loved ones about your wishes for end-of-life so that they can be honored.
But what exactly is the end-of-life stage, and what kind of care can you provide?
What is the End-of-Life Stage?
End-of-life is the final stage of a person’s life. It is a time when a person is no longer able to live independently and their health is declining. For example, a patient with a terminal diagnosis is given only six months to live. He or she will be considered at the end-of-life stage, and will most likely receive palliative care either at home or in a hospice.
Signs and Symptoms
As a person’s health deteriorates, you may start to notice tell-tale signs. Here are some of the things you can keep a lookout for, so as to better prepare yourself and your family members:
1. Significant decrease in activities
There are many reasons why patients at end-of-life may decrease in physical activities. It could be due to the progression of their illness, pain, fatigue, or depression. Patients may also find it increasingly difficult to move around or perform activities as their strength and energy levels decline.
While it is understandable that patients may want to reduce their activity level as they approach the end of life, it is important to encourage them to remain as active as possible. Physical activity can help patients maintain their quality of life and improve their mood and outlook. It can also help them cope with the stress of their illness and the changes in their body. Ultimately, remaining active can give patients a sense of control during a time when so much feels out of their control.
2. Interest in surroundings fade
It can be difficult to understand why patients at the end of life might lose interest in things that they used to enjoy. There are a variety of reasons why this may happen. First, as people get older, they may naturally start to lose interest in some activities. Second, as people approach the end of life, they may become less able to do things that they used to enjoy because of their declining health. Finally, end-of-life patients may also be dealing with a lot of psychological distress, which can lead them to lose interest in previously enjoyable activities.
3. Decrease desire for food and drinks
People who are nearing the end of life may no longer feel hungry, or the act of eating may cause them pain. Their appetite may diminish as their body starts to shut down. In some cases, patients may refuse food and water altogether as they prepare for death – also called Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED).
While it can be hard not to worry, remember that this is a normal progression of patients at the end of life.
4. Bowel and bladder changes
As a person nears the end of their life, it is not uncommon for them to experience bowel and bladder changes. These changes can be due to a variety of factors, including the body’s decreased ability to absorb nutrients and medications, and the side effects of certain treatments.
Although these changes can be uncomfortable, they are usually not harmful. Instead, try to offer more fruits and vegetables and keep the patient hydrated.
5. Decrease in body temperature
Decreased body temperature is a common end-of-life symptom, and there are a few different reasons why this may occur. One reason is that the body’s metabolism slows down as death approaches. This can cause the body to lose heat more quickly than it can generate it, leading to a decrease in body temperature. Additionally, blood flow slows down as death nears, which also contributes to a drop in body temperature. Finally, many people who are dying become less active, and this can lead to a decrease in body temperature as well. While decreased body temperature is not necessarily painful, it can be uncomfortable for some people. If you are concerned about your loved one’s comfort, please talk to their care provider to make them feel more comfortable.
The Final Stretch
In the final moments of a loved one, you may start to see a few more changes. For a start, there may be a change in breathing – from a normal rate to a new pattern. Vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate can also become irregular. You may even notice periods of fast breathing followed by none at all. Some patients may also wheeze and cough, especially in the last few hours.
As a patient begins to approach the end of their life, they may start to experience pain in various parts of their body. This is often due to the shutting down of different organs and systems as the body prepares for death. While this pain can be uncomfortable, it is important to remember that it is a natural part of the dying process. You can make the process more manageable by requesting for medical attention or simply being there for your loved one.
Often before death, consciousness may come and go. Your loved one may even be in a state of comatose or become completely unresponsive. If you have the opportunity, spend time with your loved one and talk to them about your memories together. This can be a time of great bonding and healing, even if they are unable to respond. Above all, focus on providing love and support to your loved one during this difficult time. They may not be able to communicate, but they can still feel your presence and care.
If you notice any of these signs in a loved one who is nearing the end of their life, it is important to talk to their doctor about what to expect and how to best provide support. There is no single experience of death, and everyone will approach it differently. By being prepared and understanding what to expect, you can make this difficult time a little easier for both yourself and your loved one.
For some, end-of-life care can take place at home – through palliative care. Care providers like Jaga-Me in Singaporeoffer both physical and emotional support for patients who are terminally ill. The focus is on managing pain and providing comfort, rather than curing the underlying disease. Such care allows patients to stay comfortably at home and achieve a better quality of life in the final days.
With professional home care specialists to provide assistance on activities of daily living and ensuring a comfortable environment, you will be able to focus on what matters most – being there for your loved one.
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