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10 Early And Late End-of-life Symptoms In Older Adults

Age is often joked to be an illusion, but reality says otherwise. Age and ageing are an indication that our days in this world are numbered, and eventually there is a final stage to life. A majority of us may have gone through gambol of ageing, where you have lost an older adult in your life.

As our parents and grandparents age, it is distressing to learn that a loved one is reaching the end of their life. But as mental health experts suggest, knowing what to expect can make it less upsetting and allows you to accept the death and move ahead positively.

Today, Boldsky will walk you through some of the most common signs which indicate that someone is nearing the end of their life.

End-of-Life Symptoms in Older Adults

Old age can be a terrifying concept for some, but it is important to accept life in it's all stages, be it the beginning of the end. Firstly, not every older adult will show the same symptoms. The signs may develop over time and most likely will not be at the same pace for everyone (it could be fast or slow progression).

(1) Pain: The most common and probably the most feared end-of-life symptom is pain. However, not everyone older adult will have pain during the end stages of life. But recognising the cause of the pain can help you help them manage the pain [1].

(2) Appetite change: It is normal for the metabolism and digestion to slow down gradually, and as the body requires only fewer calories, loss of appetite and reduced thirst are normal signs [2]. Digestive changes are also seen, such as trouble swallowing food, constipation, and nausea, leading to weight loss and dehydration [3].

(3) Anxiety and depression: It is normal for older adults to feel depressed and have anxiety during the end stages of life [4]. The fear and worry of leaving the loved ones behind are viewed as the primary cause for end-of-life anxiety [5].

(4) Excessive sleeping: As the energy levels fade and the body is constantly fatigued, older adults will prefer to sleep more. A dying older adult may sleep for long hours as part of the body shutting down, or as a result of medications that cause drowsiness [6].

(5) Confusion: Another common end-of-life sign observed in older adults is confusion, along with sleeplessness and agitation [7]. They may have limited attention span or repetitive actions such as pulling their clothes.

(6) Shortness of breath: Shortness of breath or breathing abnormalities are among the most common symptoms reported in older adults [8]. Their breathing can grow increasingly slow and shallow because as the throat muscles are relaxed, there are chances of fluid getting collected in the throat. As the individual is too weak to clear it out by coughing, it can result in shortness of breath, also termed as the death rattle.

(7) Withdrawal from everyone: You may notice that they slowly withdraw from the outside world, and even you and your family. Some older adults prefer a close circle of only their loved ones during the last stages and detach from everything and everyone.

(8) Urinary and bladder incontinence: Both urinary and bowel incontinence are common near the end of life and could be due to surgery or illness, or because the person is too weak to use the bathroom [9]. And as the kidneys are not fully functioning, the urine can be darker in colour.

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(9) Variations in vital signs: Another major end-of-life sign in older adults is a change in vital signs such as body temperature, drop in blood pressure (cold hands and feet), heart rate fluctuations and reduced blood circulation [10]. This can result in the skin turning purple or dark blue.

(10) Loss of consciousness: Slowly and gradually, they will lose their consciousness and become unresponsive, slowly falling into delirium, caused by decreased oxygen in the brain (but not limited to it). Their eyes may develop a glassy appearance.

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A Timeline Of End-of-life Symptoms

Weeks before: Some of the common symptoms in older adults, weeks before, involve lack of motivation, low mood and withdrawal from everything. This is due to a sense of resignation, followed by loss of appetite, weakness, and increased fatigue.

Days before: They will sleep more, and move and talk less. They may not respond to you. There will be noticeable shifts in blood pressure (drops), heart rate, body temperature, eating habits, bowel movements, urination, and breathing.

On A Final Note...

Learning about the end-of-life symptoms in older adults can help you understand what your loved one is going through and facilitate a peaceful transition for everyone.

Story first published: Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 15:26 [IST]