If a person or loved one is elderly or has a terminal illness, knowing death may be near is often difficult to deal with or comprehend. Understanding what to expect may make things a little easier.
This article explores 11 signs that death is approaching. It goes on to look at the signs that indicate a person has died and discusses how to cope with the death of a loved one.
How to tell if death is near
When a person is terminally ill, they may be in hospital or receiving palliative care. It is important for their loved ones to recognize the signs that death may be near. These signs are explored below.
1. Decreasing appetite
older man being fed in a hospital bed, decreased appetite may be a sign of death
A decreased appetite may be a sign that death is near.
As a person approaches death, they become less active. This means their body needs less energy than it did. They stop eating or drinking as much, as their appetite gradually reduces.
If a person is caring for a dying loved one who loses their appetite, they should let them eat when they feel hungry. Offering them ice pops helps them to stay hydrated.
A person may completely stop eating a few days before they die. When this happens, it helps to keep their lips moistened with lip balm, so that they are not uncomfortable.
2. Sleeping more
In the 2 or 3 months before a person dies, they may spend less time awake.
This lack of wakefulness is because their body’s metabolism is becoming weaker. Without metabolic energy, a person will sleep a lot more.
If a person is caring for a dying loved one who is sleepy, they should make them comfortable and let them sleep. When their loved one does have energy, they should encourage them to move or get out of bed to help avoid bedsores.
3. Becoming less social
As a dying person’s energy levels are reduced, they may not want to spend as much time with other people as they once did.
If a dying person is becoming less social, their loved ones should try not to be offended.
It is not unusual for a person to feel uncomfortable letting others see them losing their strength. If this is the case, it is advisable to arrange visits when the person dying is up to seeing someone.
4. Changing vital signs
As a person approaches death, their vital signs may change in the following ways:
blood pressure drops
heartbeat becomes irregular
heartbeat may be hard to detect
urine may be brown, tan, or rust-colored
A person’s urine color changes because their kidneys are shutting down. Seeing this and the other changes in a loved one may be distressing. But these changes are not painful, so it may help to try not to focus overly on them.
5. Changing toilet habits
Because a dying person is eating and drinking less, their bowel movements may reduce. They may pass less solid waste less often. They may also urinate less frequently.
When they stop eating and drinking completely, they may no longer need to use the toilet.
These changes can be distressing to witness in a loved one, but they are to be expected. Speaking to the hospital about a catheter for the person may help.
6. Weakening muscles
In the days leading up to a person’s death, their muscles may become weak.
Weak muscles mean the individual may not be able to carry out the small tasks that they were able to previously. Drinking from a cup or turning over in bed may no longer be tasks they can do.
If this happens to a dying person, their loved ones should help them lift things or turn over in bed.
7. Dropping body temperature
Older couple holding hands
A drop in body temperature may mean there is very little blood flowing to the hands.
In the days before a person dies, their circulation reduces so that blood is focused on their internal organs. This means very little blood is still flowing to their hands, feet, or legs.
Reduced circulation means a dying person’s skin will be cold to the touch. Their skin may also look pale or mottled with blue and purple patches.
The person who is dying may not feel cold themselves. Offering them a blanket is a good idea if a relative or friend thinks they may need one.
8. Experiencing confusion
When a person is dying, their brain is still very active. However, they may become confused or incoherent at times. This may happen if they lose track of what is happening around them.