Although hospice provides your loved one with end-of-life care, the exact moment that his or her life will end is nearly impossible to predict. For some patients, death comes rather abruptly, and for others, it follows a long period of gentle decline. While every individual is unique, the following symptoms may indicate that a person is approaching the end of their life:
- Increased sleeping, as well as drowsiness or unresponsiveness while awake.
- Decreased interest in socialization.
- Involuntary movements or loss of natural reflexes. Patients also sometimes grasp at their clothing or bed sheets.
- Confusion about the time, their location, or the identities of people around them (including loved ones). A patient might also speak to or look at people who aren’t really there.
- Loss of appetite and difficultly chewing or swallowing.
- Urinary and/or fecal incontinence.
- Decreased urination. Urine tends to take on a darker color, too.
- Decreased circulation in the limbs, which can cause the skin to take on a bluish tinge or feel cooler than normal.
- Increased pain; this goes hand-in-hand with a lack of response to pain medication.
- Difficulty breathing. This can manifest as the patient seeming to gurgle, choke, or make a “rattling” noise, as well as alternating between breathing slowly and very quickly.
Many of these symptoms can seem disturbing to an outside observer—especially the patient’s family members and friends. Try to keep in mind, however, that these are all normal, natural side-effects of a person’s body shutting down. In addition to helping manage the patient’s symptoms, a hospice caregiver will be able to reassure you that your loved one is not experiencing any unnecessary pain or suffering.