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Practical Tips for End of Life Care

The end of one’s life is a natural part of our lifecycle; yet, it is typically the least understood. Subsequently, providing care at the end of life can present an uncomfortable experience to not only the individual but also the family. An increasing number of people are choosing to die in the comfort of their own home. Many of those who are terminally ill have arranged hospice care services, but not all. Whether or not your loved one is on hospice services, it is important to understand the end-of-life process to best assist your loved one with the dignity and respect he or she deserves. If your loved one is nearing the end of life, familiarize yourself with the individual’s goals and wishes so you can help support them at home.

As the aging process progresses, your loved one may experience a full range of physical and emotional changes, such as increasing fear, anxiety, irritability and sadness. He or she may experience feelings of helplessness – powerlessness, if you will, a sense of being out of control, or believe and feel like he or she is a burden. Mood swings are common and can range from denial to acceptance to hopelessness in a single day. Additionally, withdrawal, changes in physical appearance and distraction are also common. As your loved one moves closer to death, he or she may likely become increasingly tired and sleep much of the time. Dying is a uniquely personal experience and these processes occur in no particular order. Sometimes they occur alone, but often they overlap. Physically and mentally, the body is beginning to shut down, while socially and emotionally the individual may show signs of withdrawal.

Physical Changes

Why do these changes occur? Changes in appetite, sleep, breathing, swallowing, energy level and other physical changes occur for a variety of reasons. As body functions begin to slow down, the body naturally tries to conserve energy. The brain releases certain chemicals that reduce the desire to eat or drink and increase the desire to sleep. Eating or drinking may cause physical discomfort or pain. The lungs no longer work efficiently, causing carbon dioxide to build up. Circulation slows down and oxygen levels to the brain, organs and extremities are reduced. The kidneys and liver start to shut down and toxins increase in the body. Some changes may be caused by medications they’re taking. Important note: hearing is one of last senses to decline; be aware that your loved one may be able to hear what you are saying up to the final moments of life.

Mental, Emotional Spiritual Changes

Why do these changes occur? Spirituality is the inner essence of who we are. It’s often described as an inner connectedness or personal relationship with a higher power and it generally answers the question, “Why am I here?” Changes in emotional and spiritual behaviors are common at the end of life, as people tend to reflect back on their life and purpose. If they have lived a full, productive life, they may have few regrets and are prepared for death. If, however, they have unfulfilled goals, dreams or broken relationships, they may suffer emotionally and struggle with dying.

Saying Goodbye

While some people are prepared for death and have come to terms with what is about to happen, others struggle with this reality. This is especially true for those individuals who have been an authority figure all their life. It may be difficult for them to relinquish control or think about leaving behind those whom they love, to let go and say goodbye. Saying goodbye is important and can help bring closure to your loved one and the family. Be encouraged to give your loved one permission to let go. Be encouraged to talk to your loved one, especially since hearing may still be intact. Validate feeling, and be available to listen. Reassure your loved one that he or she will be remembered. Reassure your loved one that his or her loved ones will be okay. Be encouraged to recount and share stories about the happy times you shared and show appreciation for the time spent together.

Take Care of Yourself

Caring for a terminally ill person can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. This is especially true if you have cared for your loved one for a long period of time and saying goodbye will be difficult. You might need extra help and support as you grieve the loss of your loved one, but finding a way to move forward should be a high priority. FBN

By Jordan Fox

Visiting Angels of Flagstaff is the leader in Dementia and Alzheimer’s specialized care. Serving Flagstaff, Williams, Winslow, Payson and Show Low. For more information regarding home care and living assistance services visiting our website visitingangels.com/flagstaff.

You can also contact the Flagstaff Office Director Jordan Fox at jfox@visitingangels.com or call the office at 928-220-4100. The office is located at 2500 S Woodlands Village Blvd #24, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.

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