As you explore the article “Physiological Changes in the Dying: Insights from The Hospice Foundation of America“, you’ll glean crucial information on the different signs hinting at an impending death, as carefully curated by the Hospice Foundation of America. You’ll learn about various transformations such as a decline in activity, a fading interest in surroundings, and a loss of appetite for food and drink.
The article elucidates the shifts in bodily functions like bowel and bladder activities, body temperature, blood pressure, heart, and respiration rates, and even skin color alterations. It further sheds light on sensory and perception changes, highlighting the importance of continuous care and communication, as individuals nearing death may still perceive pain or discomfort. It also guides you on where to seek expert advice for the best practices in providing the right care during this significant period.
Recognizing Approaching Death
Approaching Death is a sensitive topic and it can be challenging to identify its signs, but knowledge in this area can enable you to offer better comfort and support to individuals in their last days of life. It can also prepare you for what to expect. There are several noteworthy changes that may occur and can be recognized as signs of approaching death this includes a significant decrease in activity level, fading interest in surroundings, and cessation of desire for food and drink.
Significant decrease in activity level
One of the indications you may notice is a significant decrease in the person’s activity level. They might sleep more often, and even when awake, their energy is noticeably less. As the body prepares for the End of Life, it conserves energy for the vital functions and continuity of basic bodily functions.
Fading interest in surroundings
The dying person might lose interest in their surroundings. Things that once brought them joy might not seem to matter anymore. They might appear unresponsive or indifferent to the daily activities happening around them.
Cessation of desire for food and drink
Lack of appetite and interest in food or drink is another aspect that could signal nearing death. As their body systems slow down, the need for energy intake decreases.
Bowel and Bladder Changes
Several changes in bowel and bladder functions might occur as a person approaches death.
Loss of control of bodily functions
Because of the body’s gradual shut down, control over bodily functions might decrease. This can lead to incontinence, which should be handled with care and respect to maintain the individual’s dignity.
Frequency or urgency changes
Changes in frequency or urgency of urination or bowel movements could be noted. They might become less frequent, or irregular.
Body Temperature Changes
Body temperature can also fluctuate during the last stages of life due to changes in bodily functions.
Shifts in body temperature
A dying person may have fever one moment and feel cold the next. These shifts in body temperature occur as the body struggles to maintain its regular functions.
Increased cases of fever or coldness
A dying person may experience increasingly frequent bouts of fever or coldness as this struggle becomes more persistent.
Fluctuations in Vital Signs
In addition to bodily function changes, you might notice changes in vital signs.
Changes in blood pressure
Blood pressure might become irregular or gradually lower.
Heart rate variation
Heart rate fluctuation is another indication. The heart rate might become fast, irregular, or slow down as the body copes with shutting down.
Respiration rate changes
A person’s respiration rate might also change, becoming slow or unusually rapid, at times irregular. Estimations might vary, but these changes often occur few days or even hours before death.
Changes in Skin Color
The skin might undergo noticeable changes as the end of life approaches.
Skin turning purplish, pale, grey, or blotchy
Skin color might change to purplish, pale, grey, or appear blotchy due to lack of circulation and changes in body functions.
Coolness and mottling of skin on hands, arms, feet, and legs
There may be coolness and mottling, or a bluish, marbled appearance on the skin of their hands, arms, feet, and legs.
Changes in Breathing Patterns
Changes in breathing patterns are often observed in someone nearing death.
Periods of rapid breathing
You may observe quick, shallow breaths. This is often accompanied by a distinctive sound caused by the secretions in the throat or chest.
Intervals with no breath
Pause in breathing, or apnea, might occur, where the person does not breathe for short periods.
Chronic or increasing shortness of breath
They might experience chronic or increasing shortness of breath, often accompanied by noise or congestion.
Along with physical changes, sensory alterations frequently occur.
Hallucinations, illusions, or delusions
A dying person might experience hallucinations, illusions, or delusions. They might see or talk to people not present, recount experiences that did not occur, or hold beliefs without reasonable causes.
Altered perception of time
Their perception of time might alter, and they may not be fully aware of days, time, or dates.
Decreased sense of touch or response to pain
As death nears, their sense of touch or pain response may markedly decrease due to the diminishing neural functionalities.
Communication and Care
Through all these physical and sensory changes, it is crucial to continue offering comfort, care, and communication.
Continuing communication despite cognitive changes
It’s important to continue talking, touching, and showing love and care. Even if cognitive abilities change, the assumption and practice should be that they can still hear and understand you, even if they can’t respond.
Providing comfort and care
Holding hands, gently massaging, or simply being there can provide calming comfort. It’s also critical to ensure their physical comfort by taking care of hygiene, pain management, and offering a peaceful environment.
Assumptions about the level of awareness of the dying person
It is assumed that the dying person is still somewhat aware and able to experience discomfort or pain. Care should thus be provided with utmost gentleness and respect.
For guidance during this emotional and challenging period, it’s recommended to reach out to healthcare or hospice providers.
Consulting healthcare providers
Healthcare personnel are equipped with the knowledge and experience to guide families and caregivers through the end-of-life process and provide suitable care management options to ensure dignity, comfort, and quality of life.
Best practices for care during dying process
Following the recommendations laid out by them, such as pain management plans, administering prescribed medication, and adjusting the environment for comfort could make the process smoother and more bearable.
Understanding the Role of Hospice
Hospice care plays a significant role in End-of-Life Care and is a valuable resource for both the dying person and their families.
Services provided by The Hospice Foundation of America
The Hospice Foundation of America provides information about the Signs of Approaching Death, guidance on managing symptoms, and various supports and therapies aimed at providing comfort and maintaining quality of life.
Understanding the hospice approach to end-of-life care
Hospice care professionals take a comprehensive approach to end-of-life care. They provide physical, emotional, and even spiritual support focused on comfort and dignity.
The need for advocacy and support
Hospice services are crucial and serve as an advocate for the dying person, ensuring that their preferences and wishes are honored. They also support the family, providing information, coordinating care, and even providing bereavement support.
Recognizing and understanding the signs of approaching death can be overwhelming. Yet, it can provide the opportunity for you to say goodbye, express love and gratitude, and offer comfort and dignity through the dying process. Knowing what is happening can help in making meaningful decisions about care and support, ensuring peace in the final stages of life.