Page 25 - Hospice Savannah
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Signs and Symptoms of Approaching Death
Our approach in all matters is to be as honest and straight forward as possible as we believe fear of the unknown is always greater than the fear of the known. Your nurse is the best resource to help you clarify your concerns about the following information, but we want to relate possible symptoms to you in order to decrease your fear if one of them should appear suddenly.
• The arms and legs of the body may become cool to the touch, and you may notice the underside of the body becoming much darker in color. These symptoms are a result of the blood circulation slowing down.
• The patient will gradually spend more time sleeping during the day, and at times will be difficult to arouse.
• The patient may become increasingly confused about time, place, and the identity of close and familiar people.
• Incontinence (loss of control of urine and bowel movements) is possible as the body relaxes and systems slow down. Use of disposable supplies such as adult diapers, or pads can help keep the patients’ skin intact and make care easier. If the patient has a foley catheter in place, you will notice the amount of urine will decrease or change color as death comes closer.
• Oral secretions may become more profuse and collect in the back of the throat. You may have heard friends refer to the “death rattle.” This symptom is a result of relaxed muscles in the throat. It is noisy but does not usually cause the patient distress. If needed, there are medications which may decrease the secretions and assist with quieter breathing.
• Hearing and vision decrease slightly.
• You may notice the patient becoming restless, pulling at the bed linens, and having visions of people or things, which do not exist as we know them. These symptoms are often seen when the patient is approaching death.
• The patient will have decreased need for food and drink because the body will naturally begin to conserve the energy which is expended.
• During sleep, you may notice the breathing patterns of the patient change to an irregular pace where there may be 10-30 second or longer periods of no breathing (apnea). This symptom is very common.
Please know that although this information may sound frightening, the hospice team’s first goal is to help prepare the patient and family for what to expect. Remember that a member of the hospice team is always available to help you.
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