End-of-Life Care in Older Adults



Overview

The final stages in a loved one’s life can be extremely difficult. If you have an older adult in your life reaching this stage, you may be wondering what to expect or how to be there for them. Familiarizing yourself, with end-of-life care in older adults, can be beneficial to you and your loved one to create a smooth transition.


End-of-Life Signs and Symptoms

As someone reaches this stage in life their symptoms may progress at a slow or fast pace. All cases can be different, and the signs and symptoms may not be the same for everyone. Below are a list of common signs and symptoms people have been known to experience.


Early signs (weeks before end of life):

  • Low mood

  • Lack of motivation

  • Withdrawal

  • Loss of appetite

  • General weakness

  • Worsening fatigue

Later signs (days before end of life):

  • Sleeping more than being awake

  • Impaired vision

  • Less movement and talking

  • Drop in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature

  • Labored breathing

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Refusing food

  • Decreasing bowel movements and urination

  • Hallucinations, illusions, or delusions

Signs of body shutting down (hours before end of life):

  • Abnormal breathing

  • Noisy breathing

  • Glassy eyes

  • Cold extremities

  • Purple, gray, pale, or blotchy skin on knees, feet, and hands

  • Weak pulse

  • Changes in consciousness, sudden outbursts, unresponsiveness


Supporting Loved Ones during End-of-Life Care

Providing support to a loved one, during end-of-life care, can come in many different forms, such as physical comfort or emotional comfort. Communicate with a medical health professional to ensure your loved one is receiving the right care. Do not put pressure on yourself to be a sole caregiver for your loved one. A medical health professional can recommend professional caregivers or hospice care based on medical conditions and level of comfort. Below is a list of common ways a person may need to be supported during end-of-life care.


Support by physical comfort:

  • To aid breathing, get a humidifier.

  • Apply lip balm and lotion to prevent/soothe dry skin.

  • To aid hydration, get ice chips or apply a wet washcloth to the lips.

  • Prevent bedsores by repositioning every few hours.

  • Change bedding as needed.

  • Prepare soft foods.

  • Block out bright lights and loud/distracting noises.

  • Let person sleep as long as they want.

Support by emotional comfort:

  • Provide companionship by encouraging conversation.

  • Provide physical contact by holding their hand or giving a hug.

  • Get their favorite music, movies, or television shows to play.

  • Always remain calm.

  • Tell them you love them and let them say goodbye on their own timing.

  • If religious/spiritual, bring in a spiritual advisor such as, a priest or doula.


The goal, of end-of-life care, is to create as smooth a transition as possible for people nearing the end of their life. This can be a scary time for everyone involved and it is important the patient has all the emotional and physical support they need to feel as little pain as possible. By taking this step, to research what to expect when a loved one reaches end-of-life care, you are helping your loved one by being prepared. Once your loved one has passed, remember to take all the time you need to grieve and take care of yourself.


References

1. Pietrangelo, Ann. “11 End-of-Life Symptoms in Older Adults.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 23 Nov. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/elderly-end-of-life-symptoms#takeaway.

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