Scenario 6: The dying process

We want to allow mum to die in her own home, but what will happen to her in those final days and hours?

  • Caring for a dying person at home can be an intensely rewarding experience, but it can also be very challenging.
  • Most areas of Australia have some form of palliative care service that can provide either direct care or advice and support to families in their homes.
  • Caring for a dying person at home should ideally be done with the support of a GP and a community nursing service.
  • Some of the experiences that people commonly have in the last days and hours of life are outlined below.

Communication

The person will likely communicate less and spend more and more time asleep. Loved ones should spend time comforting the person quietly, rather than feel the need to stimulate conversation. While the person may not seem to be responding, be aware that they can probably hear what is being said around them.

Eating and drinking

The person will have less need for food and drink as the end approaches. Loved ones should be reassured that the person is not ‘starving to death’, as this is part of the body’s gradual shutting down. They should not try to force the person to accept food, but offer small amounts of food, drink or ice to make the person comfortable.

Confusion

The person may become confused and possibly agitated. Loved ones should gently reassure the person and seek advice from professionals, if necessary.

Breathing changes

The person’s breathing may quicken, slow or become irregular. They may also develop a noisy, rattling breathing – which can be very distressing for loved ones to experience. It is best to get advice from care staff about how to manage this. If the person is in care, staff may move the person to a more comfortable position or administer medicine to ease this symptom.

Final stage

The person will normally slip into a deep sleep (coma) and not respond to touch or speech. They may lose control of their bladder and bowel and gradually their breathing and heartbeat will stop.