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Signs that a Senior is Nearing End-of-Life

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
March 30, 2012

Question: My aging aunt has been bedridden for many years. I have noticed recently that she sleeps for unusually long periods of time and her body temperature has been also been falling. What are the signs that the end is near? What can I do to make her comfortable?

Answer: By the time you get this answer, it is very possible that your aunt has already died. If this is true, I am so sorry for your loss. As people near the very end of their lives, they tend to sleep more and eat less. During the final day or two, your aunt will probably be sleeping all the time and her body temperature will fluctuate. Your aunt may become very warm and then, very cold.  This is normal as the body is losing the ability to regulate its temperature. Each part of the body is slowly turning off. The digestive tract doesn’t need food anymore so the person will want to stop eating. She will probably only want a few sips of liquid so she will be urinating very little. This is all very normal. 

To keep her comfortable, when she is warm, take the covers off, and when she is cold, put the covers back on. Make sure you do not use a heating pad or electric blanket as she can no longer tell you she is getting too hot or burned. 

If your aunt has a hospice team helping her, the nurse should be able to tell you what to expect in these last days. You don’t need to be afraid. Our bodies know how to let go and die.  The best thing you can do is to keep her comfortable and to let her know that you love her and will miss her.

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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