October 31, 2013

Caring for a Loved One at End-of-life

As a caregiver of a loved one under hospice care, you know that death will occur. But do you know what will happen as your loved one approaches end-of-life? Preparing for death is never easy but with the help of the interdisciplinary team that has been assigned to care for your loved one, you will get through this difficult time with a supportive team.

Predictors of End-of-Life

There are signs and symptoms of the actively dying stage. The most noticeable ones are withdrawal, decreased energy, increased sleep and decreased appetite and thirst.

Aversions to Food and Fluids

As your loved one’s caregiver, it can be painful to watch him or her refuse food or liquids, but this is a natural aversion at end-of-life. Your loved one may have difficulty swallowing or may have nausea, and food and liquid can make these symptoms worse. In order to keep your loved one comfortable, do not force feed or force fluids. Hospice patients often have changing patterns of eating and drinking. When your loved one is nearing end-of-life, very little fuel is needed. The patient is not starving. Nature is at work assisting the person to die in a more comfortable way.

Withdrawal or Decreased Socialization

Your loved one may wish to be alone or with very few people. This is normal and to be expected. Talking is not necessary. Instead, sit next to your loved one quietly and hold their hand. Your loved one will know you are there without having a conversation.

Increased Sleep

As your loved one approaches end-of-life, he or she may sleep more than ever. This is a natural reaction to the body’s decreased need for energy or fuel. Allow your loved one to sleep; do not force him or her to stay awake. At this point, it is more important to be with the person rather than try to do anything for him or her.

As your loved one approaches end-of-life, remember to keep them comfortable and sit quietly with them. Help them do the things they love the most. Your presence will be known and they will appreciate it.