Recognising when someone is reaching the end of their life

Read about some of the signs that a person with dementia is nearing their death, and how you can support yourself as a carer, friend or relative.

It is important to know when a person with dementia is nearing the end of their life because it can help in giving them the right care. However it can be difficult to know when this time is.

This uncertainty can have a big impact on how the person’s family feel, and may also affect how they feel themselves.

There are symptoms in the later stages of dementia that can suggest the person is reaching the final stage of their illness. These include:

It is likely that a person with dementia is nearing the end of their life if they have these symptoms, along with other problems such as frailty, infections that keep coming back, and pressure ulcers (bedsores)

The start of the dying process

As someone’s condition worsens and they get to within a few days or hours of dying, further changes are common. The person will often:

  • deteriorate more quickly than before
  • lose consciousness
  • be unable to swallow
  • become agitated or restless
  • develop an irregular breathing pattern
  • have cold hands and feet.

These changes are part of the dying process. Healthcare professionals can explain these changes so you understand what is happening. The person is often unaware of what is happening, and they should not be in pain or distress.

Medication can be used to treat the person’s symptoms. If the person can’t swallow, there are other ways of providing this, such as medication patches on the skin, small injections or syringe drivers (devices that provide a continuous flow of medication under the person’s skin). Speak to a GP or another health professional about this.

Carers: looking after yourself

When a person with dementia is approaching the end of their life, it can be a very difficult time for them and the people around them. Read more about how you can look after yourself as a carer, friend or relative.

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