As a caregiver, you know your loved one best. You know their eating schedule. You can predict when they’ll use the bathroom. You can sense their mood, too. Because you know your loved one so well, you know when something’s not quite right. When your routine changes, you notice.

Despite your desire to plan, no one knows how long a loved one may live while in palliative care. It could be days, months, or even years. The dying process looks different for everyone. It’s important for you to recognize the physical signs that start the process.

No Interest in Food or Drink
Your loved one’s desire to eat and drink may wane considerably as they approach death. As the body starts to shut down, it simply doesn’t need the same fuel it once did. Depending on their physical state, they might struggle to swallow and even choke on food at this stage. If this is the case, refrain from pushing food or drink on them as it could cause them to choke.

Changing Bathroom Habits
Unsurprisingly, if a person stops eating and drinking like usual, their bathroom habits will change too. They could urinate less and become dehydrated, so it’s important to help them hydrate however you can. On the flip side, it’s also common to experience constipation or incontinence.

An Increase in Sleep
Given less food, it’s common for a dying person to sleep more. Their energy level has depleted given the changes happening in their body. Dying means that a person’s metabolism is shutting down too. It’s best to leave them and let them rest during this stage.

A Change in Breathing
As death approaches, breathing patterns will noticeably shift. Their normal breathing may become shallow. This shortness of breath is often described as “air hunger” by experts. Breathing may sound like they are gasping at this stage.

Skin Changes
A tell-tale sign that death is near is a noticeable change in your loved one’s skin. Because the skin is an organ, it will shut down at the end of a person’s life. Death could be within days or hours if it turns bluish-purple or blotchy.

Less Interest in Their Environment
You may have previously been able to engage your loved one with television shows or books. But now they seem less interested in their surroundings. This phenomenon is known as “detaching.” if you notice this, make sure their environment is quiet and dim the lights.

Heightened Hearing
Believe it or not, a person’s sense of hearing is actually heightened as they approach death. Even if they have detached, remember this. As you speak among family or friends, be aware that they can hear you. Use this knowledge to comfort you and your loved one. Speak with them and let them know that you’re there. Use a kind tone and let them know how much you care about them.

Preparing to say goodbye is a profoundly difficult experience. But Dying At Home can help ease the process. Download the BLUE BOOK and GREEN BOOK to recognize more signs and prepare for your loved one’s release.