About Your Loved One's Last Days

ExitCare ImageThe death of a loved one is stressful for family and friends. The stress can be lessened if you understand some of the changes your loved one may go through when death is near. This information will tell you about these changes and what you can do to help.


Meeting spiritual needs is important to some families. A priest, minister, or spiritual leader can be included as a member of the caregiving team to provide guidance and counseling along the way.


Talk with your loved one about wishes for the last phase of life. The following are types of care one can have:

  • Home care. Many people choose to die in their own home or the home of a family member. This might require you to take on the role of caregiver.

  • Hospice care. Hospice care can take place in a variety of settings. Most hospice care occurs at home. Hospice services might also help in a 24-hour residential care setting. Hospice personnel may also offer services at a nursing home where they add to the nursing home's care.

  • Hospital. Some people prefer the comfort of having nurses and doctors nearby at all times.

  • Nursing home. Nursing homes have medical staff on duty at all times. Nursing home care can be combined with hospice care.


Sleeping more

  • Keep a light on in the room. They may not be able to see as well when the wake up.

  • Give any needed medicine when they wake up.


  • Your loved one may talk to people who are not in the room or people who have already died.

  • Comfort your loved one if they seem scared. D o not try to correct them.

  • You may see restlessness and unusual behavior, such as pulling on the sheets.

Less thirst and hunger

  • Loss of interest in food is normal when nearing death.

  • Do not make your loved one drink or eat.

  • Keep their mouth moist for comfort. Offer chips of ice if they are still able to chew. Put petroleum jelly on their lips to keep them from being too dry.

  • Do not force any medicine.

Not peeing (urinating) or pooping (having bowel movements) as much

  • Put bed pads under them, and change them when needed to keep them clean and dry.

  • If your loved one expresses a need to pee and cannot, call a doctor.

Fluid in the mouth or throat

  • Fluids may become thick in the mouth because of less eating and drinking. Sometimes, thick spit (mucus) in the throat will build up. It may help to raise the person's head and shoulders on pillows.

  • Gently wipe out their mouth with the wet mouth sponges. These are available from your doctor.

Cold arms, legs, and body

Arms, legs and feet may feel cold and may look blue in color. Lips may also look blue.

Breathing changes

  • Breaths may not be as deep, or breaths may become deeper, like snoring. This is normal.

  • There may be as much as 30 seconds between breaths. This change may last awhile and it may come and go.


  • Breathing stops.

  • The heart stops beating.

  • Your loved one cannot be awakened.

  • His/her eyes may be part way open.

  • The mouth may drop open a little.

Do not be afraid. These are all natural occurrences. Feelings of grief or relief at this time are normal. Talk to your caregiving team about any questions or needs you have.