Caregivers know full and well what their responsibility entails and how their responsibilities will end. While everyone knows how this type of duty will end, the news can still come unexpectedly. Death is a constant, and while some may die randomly, many deaths, especially for older individuals, follow a slow decline in health over months or even years. Still, it is hard to estimate life expectancy on an individual, predicting the amount of time a patient has left is not an easily quantifiable thing. However, there are a number of signs that you can look for.
Even when a patient is experiencing some of the signs that may be pointing toward death, they still need to be cared for. This may be difficult as you don’t know what these signs may look like or may not know how to care for them during this period in their life.
Recognizing end of life symptoms
There are certain signs and symptoms that can give caregivers and family members an idea that death may be near.
Drowsiness, increasing sleep, and being unresponsive are common symptoms when the metabolism in the body shuts down, a common end-of-life symptom for older individuals. It is important to plan visits and activities during the times when the body is most alert. Even if they are not responsive, be sure to speak directly to them as they still may be able to hear you. It is best not to try and shake your loved one or patient if they are unresponsive.
Confusion and Agitation
Confusion is a common problem, many older individuals suffer from it. Whether it is confusion about time, surroundings, or people, there may be a number of reasons that they are experiencing these problems. For example, this type of confusion may be characteristic of other underlying problems such as dementia. Whatever the case, when these issues arise, it is best to gently remind your loved one of the date, time, and people that they are confused about. If your loved one is dealing with a moment of agitation, do not try and restrain them. It is best to be calm and let the episode pass. If the problem persists, it may be recommended to seek out medical help and even get a prescription to help them.
Older individuals late in life may experience social withdrawal, this may be caused by decreased blood flow and oxygen to the brain and can be considered mental preparation for death. During this time, it is recommended that you make them aware that you are there for them.
Near the end of life, the body will slow certain processes like digestion to help conserve energy. This can be difficult for some family members to deal with. One recommendation is to allow your loved one to choose what they want to eat or drink. It may be beneficial to give patients ice chips, water, and juice which can be refreshing for them.
Because processes like digestion slow, the body may not be getting the proper nutrition and hydration it needs, this can lead to reduced kidney function. In certain cases, it may be best to utilize a catheter to prevent blockages.
Decreased Muscle Control
Sudden, quick movements and jerks are common in the legs and arms when a patient is close to the end of their life. These are normally not painful but can lead to other issues. Medication may be necessary to minimize these problems and improve sleep quality.
As age continues, and end-of-life gets nearer, your loved one’s skin may get darker and grayish in color. This is likely caused by decreased circulation. Blankets can be used for warmth, but it may be best to avoid electric blankets as they may cause burns.
Changes in breathing is a common symptom for older individuals. Your loved ones breathing may alternate between quick and slow breathing. Along with breathing, your loved one’s heart rate may be arrhythmic. If a patient is struggling with breathing, it is recommended that you sit them up with pillows to support them. If the problem is severe enough, an external source of oxygen may be beneficial.
As the end of a patient’s life comes near, they may experience increased pain, it is important during this time to be sure that they are being given the proper pain medications that they need. Contact a doctor or medical professional if the dosage does not seem to be effective. There are also other avenues that you can go such as massages and relaxation techniques to help get rid of discomfort.
There are many signs that a patient or a loved one may be getting close to the end of their life. It is important to remember, however, that each patient’s experience is unique and not all of these symptoms may be present. However, some things like increased pain, loss of appetite, irregular breathing, social withdrawal, and more are all common symptoms for people nearing the end of their life. For people nearing the end of life, doing everything you can to help ease them into the next step can go a long way to increase their comfort as they move on. Doing simple things like talking to them, helping them sit up, and using medication can all be effective in helping them deal with these problems.
Being a caregiver or watching your loved one pass on is hard for anyone. It may be more difficult to see them go if they aren’t getting the care that they need. Some assisted living facilities have the tools and knowledge to help residents of all situations. At Landmark Senior Living, we pride ourselves on our ability to help patients and give them the healthy and happy life that they deserve as they age. If you are more interested in learning about our assisted living facilities and would like a complimentary tour, please reach out to our admission team today.