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Death and Dying


Healthcare providers can recognize signs and symptoms that mean a person may be close to dying. The person and his loved ones can be helped to prepare for and accept death. A dying person may fear being alone, becoming a burden, or having pain. Medicines and other supportive care can help the person feel peaceful during the last part of his life.


Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Care for the person:

  • Keep the person company: Always be willing to listen to the person, especially if he talks about his life. Do things together, such as watching television and reading books, or just sit with him.
  • Make the person comfortable: Help the person manage stress, and be relaxed and comfortable. Work together with people the person can trust to help him get through the hard times.
  • Keep the person involved: Many people want to be included in their treatment and care plan. Avoid holding back information that you think the person should not or does not want to hear.
  • Be respectful: Respect the person's feelings and need for privacy. Let him express fears and concerns about dying, such as leaving family and friends behind. Reassure him that you will follow and honor his wishes.
  • Help the person create an advance directive: Advance directives are spoken or written legal and medical care instructions. They are made by the person in case he becomes unable to decide for himself later. Examples include living wills, organ donation, and CPR attempts. Without advance directives, someone who has permission will make these decisions for the person.

Signs and symptoms that may occur as a person is dying:

  • Energy: As a person nears death, his body changes the way it uses energy. He may stop talking or responding, and begin sleeping more and more. He may also have pain, weakness, or fatigue. He may not want to eat or drink as his body shuts down.
  • Body temperature: The person's body may become cool to the touch because of the decreasing blood flow in his body.
  • Breathing patterns: Irregular breathing patterns often change as the body stops working. There may be periods of rapid, shallow breathing with longer gaps between breaths.
  • Confusion or disorientation: These may be caused by decreased oxygen in the brain, chemical changes in the body, or medicines. The person may start having problems thinking clearly or seem confused.
  • Skin color: Poor blood flow to the skin may cause it to look dull, darker, or mottled (blue and blotchy). This may be most noticeable on his hands and feet.
  • Coma: This happens when a person cannot be awakened or aroused from a deep sleep. Coma may lasts from minutes to hours before death occurs.

After death occurs:

  • All the remaining tubes, IV lines, and other equipment will be removed.
  • Family members may want clothing that was removed or cut away during resuscitation (reviving) efforts.
  • A spiritual counselor may do a religious ritual depending on the person's or his family's wishes.
  • Ask if you can spend time with the body.
  • If the person or family agreed on organ donation, certain body organs or tissue may be taken for donation.
  • The body may be bathed or dressed. The funeral home may be called when the family is ready to have the body moved.

For support and more information:

  • Caring Connections
    National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
    1731 King Street, Suite 100
    Alexandria , VA 22314
    Phone: 1- 800 - 658-8898
    Web Address:

Contact the person's healthcare provider if:

  • The person has new signs and symptoms since his last appointment.
  • The person has questions or concerns about his condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • The person asks you to bring him to his healthcare provider or nearest hospital.
  • The person feels like hurting himself or someone else.
  • The person feels pain that is not relieved with pain medicines.
  • The person feels that he cannot cope with his condition.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.