Death and Dying: Caring for a Senior

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Watching a loved one near the end of his or her life is never easy, but there are several ways you can make the process easier for them.

Physical Needs

As your senior approaches death, their appetite may diminish, they may sleep much more and be harder to rouse, and they may become less responsive or cognitively aware of the events around them. The best thing to do for them is to make them as comfortable as possible. If they don’t want to eat, don’t force-feed. If they want to sleep for 18 hours each day, let them. And if they speak or babble incoherently, maintain a calm, reassuring tone and don’t become anxious around them.

Mental Needs

Just as important as caring for your senior physically is caring for them mentally. Although their cognition may decline – if it hasn’t already – arguments have been made that they are aware, or “onto”, more than appears. Keep talking to them, read them stories, or have the radio play softly, as the sense of hearing is thought to be one of the last to go.

Spiritual Needs

If your loved one had a strong religious or spiritual attachment previously, carrying on with it can bring them great comfort as the superfluous layers of life become stripped away near death. Plan to have a priest/minister/rabbi/imam/ or any other appropriate spiritual leader make regular home visits, setting up a time when your senior is feeling relatively well or calm. If this isn’t an option, turning on the TV to spiritual shows, or reading them passages from books or magazines, can be an alternate option.

Medical Needs

This section is not meant to replace a doctor’s orders, but rather to describe what commonly occurs in the general population. If your senior is running a temperature, giving them Tylenol to reduce the fever can work. Sometimes oral Tylenol isn’t always an option, such as if they’re comatose, and so a suppository would then be given. Morphine is also a common medication to give, as it reduces pain and makes seniors feel calm and “floaty.”

Family Needs

Lastly, taking care of yourself and your family also matters when your senior is dying. Make sure you’re healthy so you can balance your senior’s needs as best as possible. And on a less physical, more relationship note, understand that this time is reserved just for your senior. He or she may request to see certain family or friends, and you should make every effort possible to grant their wishes, even if you’re not so crazy about the other people. Bringing comfort to your loved one is key, and just the right thing to do at this time.