Navigating the End-of-Life Journey: Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

As a loved one nears the end of their life, it’s common for family members to struggle with uncertainty and to have a myriad of questions. In such moments, one of the primary aims of the hospice care team is to offer guidance on recognizing the signs indicating that the final stage is approaching.

The journey towards death is a natural process, marked by declines in various bodily functions including neurocognitive, cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular capacities. While the dying process varies greatly among individuals – spanning from weeks to mere hours – there are certain commonalities in the signs and symptoms that manifest in the final days of life.

  1. Decreased Activity Level

The individual may exhibit reduced movement and speech, often spending prolonged periods asleep and displaying a reluctance towards engaging in activities.

  1. Decline in Appetite and Thirst

Your loved one may exhibit little to no interest in food or drink, potentially experiencing difficulties in swallowing which could lead to coughing or choking episodes.

  1. Increased Pain

The progression of the illness may result in heightened discomfort, observable through moaning, groaning, grimacing or agitation.

  1. Diminished Interest in Surroundings

Withdrawal, unresponsiveness to inquiries, and a lack of enthusiasm towards previously enjoyed activities may become apparent.

  1. Changes in Bowel and Bladder Function

Constipation may arise, necessitating the use of stool softeners or laxatives. Loss of bladder control may also manifest.

  1. Reductions or Increase in Body Temperature

As the body weakens the brain is unable to regulate the body temperature which can cause a fever or the body to become cool. Extremities such as hands, arms, feet and legs may feel notably cooler to the touch as the blood flow slows down.

  1. Breathing Pattern Changes

Shallow breathing interspersed with brief periods of apnea or rapid, shallow panting might occur.

  1. Skin Changes

The skin on extremities may become discolored or mottled, indicating the gradual cessation of organ function. These changes do not cause any discomfort to the patient.

  1. Diminished Consciousness

The individual may enter a state of unconsciousness or a coma-like condition, becoming entirely unresponsive.

  1. Confusion

Disorientation regarding time, place or recognition of individuals may arise, often accompanied by sensory alternations such as illusions or hallucinations.

At The Elizabeth Hospice, our compassionate, professional caregivers possess a deep understanding of the dying process, offering both medical expertise and emotional support to both patients and families as they navigate this journey. For further insights into end-of-life signs and symptoms and caring for a terminally ill loved one, please reach out to us at 800-797-2050.