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How does a terminally ill person know when death is imminent?

My aunt was dying of cancer. For just under 2 weeks, she decided to utilize hospice. On the day she died, that morning she told her sister she was dying and wanted to see her children. What are some indicators that death is imminent? What changes? I've tried to research this, but I thought maybe you ladies (especially nurses or doctors) may have had experience with this.

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Asked by SlightlyPerfect at 10:24 PM on Feb. 4, 2011 in Health

Level 10 (473 Credits)
Answers (8)
  • I think they know. The night before my mother died, she was giving away things and telling us we can have them when she died. She knew it was coming. I guess their body just knows and connects the dots somehow. Instinct must kick in.

    Answer by Izsarejman at 10:25 PM on Feb. 4, 2011

  • Seeing loved ones who have passed on is a good indicator, imo.

    Answer by Simplicity3 at 10:26 PM on Feb. 4, 2011

  • But I mean, like, what does it FEEL like? What changes occur? Is it mental? Physical? I know indicators of approaching death, but to actually know death is imminent... how does a terminally ill person KNOW that? HOW does the body know?

    Comment by SlightlyPerfect (original poster) at 10:31 PM on Feb. 4, 2011

  • As a hospice nurse who has worked over 240 case the best I can tell you is they simply just know. Something inside them tells them the time is iminent and to take care of things that need to be said. I have seen more than one patient who was literally at deaths door for weeks and seemingly hung on until some event took place. Often the birth a child, a marriage, a graduation. When they are conscious they just get a sixth sense about it I guess. When a patient is not conscious you can tell that death is iminent by physical changes to their breathing, particularly cheyne-stokes respirations often referred to as 'the death rattle'. blood pressure drops, heart rate slows. Total syustem failure is not uncommon. I'm not sure I was able to help you understand but that is the best way I know to expalin it.

    Answer by GrnEyedGrandma at 10:34 PM on Feb. 4, 2011

  • I agree with GrnEyedGrandma. I worked in an inpatient hospice unit and saw many people in their final days. I only had a handful that "knew" they were dying. I had more people deny it than accept it. Most of the time they just get sleepy and then don't wake up and for days you can see them deteriorate but they are unaware.

    Answer by ashisamom at 10:36 PM on Feb. 4, 2011

  • I watched as my great-aunt was dying, she would tell me things like “ Charlie (great-uncle) is sitting in the chair, do you see him?" or will you take the cat off the chair, there was no cat. These things started about a week before she died. The night before she died she told me she'd be gone by morning and she said it with so much clarity that I didn't believe her. She told me she was at peace with her mind and soul, said she loved me and passed away approx. 5:45 a.m. the next day. Just like we “nest" before a baby is born, they come to peace before they die.

    Answer by Kathy675 at 10:40 PM on Feb. 4, 2011

  • I think that they are at peace,comfortable and nothing hurts anymore. When my aunt passed she looked at my sister and said I am ready now, so my sister said ok you go and she did. My sister said she had a smile on her face. Her daughter left the room and that is when she turned to my sister.

    Answer by sta517 at 10:42 PM on Feb. 4, 2011

  • They just seem to know.

    Answer by wellnessgirl at 7:57 PM on Feb. 5, 2011

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