Everyone is different, so it’s not easy to say exactly what will happen when someone approaches the end of their life. But in the last weeks and days before death, it’s common to experience certain changes. One of the most challenging aspects of being a caregiver is learning to cope with the physical changes the person you’re caring for will experience near the end of their life. Seeing a loved one go through this transition will likely bring up a flood of emotions, and you may be unsure about what to expect or how to behave. In this video, we’ll guide you through the physical changes that are common near the end of life, and give you some tips on how to manage these changes as a caregiver.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a caregiver is learning to cope with the physical changes the person you’re caring for will experience near the end of their life.
Seeing a loved one go through this transition will likely bring up a flood of emotions, and you may be unsure about what to expect or how to behave.
In this video, we’ll guide you through the physical changes that are common near the end of life, and give you some tips on how to manage these changes as a caregiver.
When the person you are caring for has a life-threatening illness, over time they will begin to decline in what they’re able to do. As they get less capable of performing basic physical activities, caring for them will become more involved. It’s important to be prepared for the physical changes that can happen when the person you’re caring for nears the end of their life.
As a caregiver, it’s important to be prepared for the physical changes that happen when the person you’re caring for nears the end of their life.
You may notice a loss of appetite, which can sometimes cause dramatic weight loss. Offer them food and drinks they enjoy, and allow them to eat whenever they’re hungry, not just at regular meal times. It’s okay to encourage them to eat, but don’t try to force it.
If they’re not eating as much, you’ll also notice a reduction in how often they go to the bathroom, and they might wet or soil themselves.
If they start having abdominal pain or vomiting, their healthcare provider can prescribe medication that may help.
Having a dry or sore mouth is another common physical change, so encourage them to drink when they feel up to it, and provide frequent mouth care with a mouth sponge or moisture spray. Offer them soft, cool foods that they won’t need to chew, and if they wear dentures it might be more comfortable to take them out.
It’s normal for people nearing the end of life to become very tired. You’ll notice that the person you’re caring for will sleep more than usual, and it may become more difficult to wake them up. At a certain point, receiving visits from friends and family might be too exhausting, so try to respect their wishes if they say they’re too tired for a visit.
The person you’re caring for could also be experiencing pain, although they might have trouble letting you know. If they’re moving less and grimace when they do try to move they might be in pain. If you believe they’re in pain, talk to their healthcare provider about whether an adjustment in their medication might be an option.
Try to reposition them at least once every two hours to prevent bedsores, unless the movement is too painful for them to handle. A heating pad, ice pack, or massage can also help with the pain.
Although their skin may start to feel cool to the touch, avoid giving them more blankets, as the added weight can be uncomfortable and add to their existing pain.
They may also begin to suffer from confusion, hallucinations and severe mood swings. It can be very difficult to see your loved one behaving in a way that doesn’t seem like their usual self, but try your best to reassure them that you’re there for them and that they’re in a safe place.
Difficulty breathing is another common physical change to expect near the end of life. The person you’re caring for might start to gasp for air, breathe with quick, shallow breaths, or let out wheezy, wet-sounding gasps. Sleeping upright in a hospital bed or recliner can sometimes help, and their doctor may be able to provide medication or oxygen therapy to ease some of the discomforts.
Towards the very end of their life, there may be long gaps in their breathing of up to 30 seconds or more. They might also develop very noisy breathing, which, although not painful, can be distressing to hear.
Understanding these physical changes will help you prepare for the final stage of your role as a caregiver. If possible, talk to the person you’re caring for about their preferences and wishes in advance, and don’t be afraid to lean on your friends and family for support.
Watching a loved one approach the end of their life is never easy, but you can feel confident knowing that you’re taking the right steps to make them feel comfortable during this difficult time.
Watch our video on how to create an advanced care plan for more information on providing end of life care.