Common Problems that People Experience Near the End of Life and How to Care for Them

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If you have taken on the role of primary caretaker of your loved one as they approach the end of life, you may be wondering what you can do to alleviate some common issues that arise in the last days and hours before death.  Here are our tips for providing comfort when these common problems occur: 

Inability to Eat or Lack of Interest in Eating: 

As difficult as it may be to accept, disinterest in food is a natural part of the dying process.  Oftentimes, it’s the body’s way of conserving energy.  If your loved one desires food but is struggling to eat it, try moistening the mouth with a wet cloth or ice chips.  Sit your loved one in an upright position and provide small bites of food or shakes and smoothies for easy consumption.

Difficulty Breathing:

Labored breathing may be remedied by keeping your loved one’s head in an upright position by raising the bed or adding pillows behind his head.  If he continues to have trouble breathing, consult with the medical team about the use of oxygen.

Skin Irritation:

Skin sores may occur when a person doesn’t change positions frequently.  If this happens, apply an unscented lotion generously and often.  Readjust your loved one as needed to prevent further irritation. 

Facial Dryness:

Dryness around the eyes and lips is common.  To alleviate this, use a damp cloth around the eyes and apply petroleum jelly to the lips when you notice chapping. 


The medical team can walk you through how to change incontinence pads if you need assistance.  You can also inquire about the use of a catheter. 


Pain medication should be provided as directed.  If the pain does not get better with medication, consult with the medical team about an adjustment.


Remind your loved one where he is and who you are.  Speak calmly and slowly.  If he is frequently agitated and you are unable to sufficiently calm him, consult with the medical team for additional help. 

Trouble Staying Warm:

Pay attention to cues that your loved one may be too cold.  Adjust the temperature settings in the room and/or use a heating pad or additional blankets to warm him up as needed.

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