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Coping with changes towards the end of life

While you’re looking after someone who’s dying, you’re very close to everything they experience, and there can be distressing moments. It’s less difficult to cope if you know what physical and mental changes to expect as the end of life comes nearer. It might also help to know how other people have managed in a similar situation.

In the last days and weeks, a person’s condition can change rapidly. Here are some of the changes that commonly occur.

Eating less and losing a lot of weight

It’s very hard to see someone you care for become thin and frail, but they may not feel hungry. Their body is slowing down and eating too much might make them feel worse. Whether extra nutrition is needed or not is a decision for the person’s doctor, who will take their wishes into account.

If you find this situation difficult, it might help to focus on other ways to make it easier for the person and show how much you care for them. For example, giving them a gentle hand massage is very soothing.

Drinking less

Again, the body’s needs are changing and insisting the person has more drinks than they need could cause them discomfort. It may also become harder to swallow. They might prefer to suck on a bit of ice or an ice lolly. You could try freezing some of their favourite drinks in an ice cube tray, so that they can still enjoy the flavour. As with nutrition, whether extra fluids are needed is a decision for the doctor, who will take the person’s wishes into account.

Sleeping a lot

Near the end, the person might sleep longer, and more often.  When they’re awake, they might seem distant and drowsy. But they can still hear what’s going on, so it can be a comfort to talk gently to them. If the house is too silent, try playing some quiet music or radio programmes that the person likes.


Some people become agitated, restless and anxious. They might say things that don’t make sense, or see things that you don’t. If the person is distressed, sedative medication might be recommended. You can help by talking calmly to them and trying to understand what they’re thinking about.  Sometimes it works to try and distract them, for example by playing some music that you know they’ll like. Just holding their hand can help them feel safer and reassured.

Read more about changes in the body and mind and how to make your friend or relative more comfortable as they go through these changes.

Stories from experience
You can hear how other people managed by visiting healthtalkonline. You can read their stories or listen as they share their experiences in videos.

This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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