How to Provide Additional Comfort at End of Life
One of the most difficult things when a loved one is approaching end of life is our own sense of helplessness. While we may not be able to stop the inevitable outcome, there are still things we can do to provide our loved one with additional comfort at end of life.
Provide warm blankets.
Your loved one’s hands, arms, feet, and legs may be increasingly cool to the touch. Help them stay warm by covering them with soft, comfortable blankets.
Make the room comfortable.
Make your loved one’s room comfortable as they approach end of life. Dim the lights to avoid harsh glare. Play soft music that they enjoy. You may also light candles or use an essential oil diffuser to provide additional comfort at end of life.
Offer ice chips.
It’s normal for someone approaching end of life to stop eating and drinking as their body begins to shut down. Do not try to force them to eat if they are no longer able to do so. It can increase discomfort and risk of aspiration. Instead, offer frozen juice chips or small chips of ice as refreshment. A cool, moist towel can also be placed on their forehead and glycerin swabs or toothettes can be used.
Talk through what’s happening.
As the body shuts down, your loved one may become disoriented and not know the day, time, place or even who is around them. Help them by identifying yourself when you begin speaking. Let them know what’s happening in the room and why it’s happening – especially if you will be moving them or administering medication. For example, “I’m going to be turning you so we can get ready for your bath.”
Support the physical changes they are experiencing.
As end of life approaches, your loved one may experience restlessness and make repetitive motions like pulling at their clothing. Allow them to move their body without restraining them in any way. Instead, quietly reassume them, play soothing music, and lightly massage their forehead.
If your loved one experiences incontinence, change their soiled clothing to keep them clean and comfortable. Your hospice aide can provide advice and assistance.
Help them into a comfortable position.
Your loved one may breathe shallow breaths with periods of no breath that can last from a few seconds to a minute. Or they may have periods of rapid, shallow panting as circulation decreases. Support them by elevating their head or gently turning them onto their side.
If you hear congestion and gurgling inside the chest, gently turn their head to the side to help drain any secretions. Wiping their mouth gently with a moist cloth can also help.
Support their wishes.
Support your loved one’s wishes about the care they receive and their end-of-life plans. If they wish to talk about funeral arrangements, listen and support them. Allow them to decide the type care they should receive and where they want to receive it.
Support their experience.
Your loved one may report seeing visions, particularly of family and friends who have already died. These types of visions often bring great comfort, so do not try to contradict or test them. If your loved one seems to be anxious or frightened by them, speak to your hospice team about how to best support them and provide comfort.
Your loved one may sleep more as they approach end of life. They can become unresponsive and difficult to arouse. Support them by sitting with them and holding their hand. Keep talking to them about fond memories and sharing any important things you wish to say. Express gratitude and share words of love or forgiveness. Assume they can hear what you are saying, because research shows that hearing is the last sense we hold onto.
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides support to patients and families facing serious and terminal illness. To learn more about what end-of-life signs and symptoms to expect and how we can help provide comfort at end of life, please call us 1-888-564-3405.
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