The experience of dying is unique for each patient and family. Nurses must discover what each dying patient and his family need. What are they afraid of? What do they need to know? What will help them? It’s important to help both the patient and his family prepare for the dying process.
The dying process
♦ The dying process is total body system failure.
♦ Each patient’s death progresses differently. The dying process usually occurs over 10 to 14 days, but it can take as little as 24 hours or occur unexpectedly in minutes.
♦ The following is a summary of the effect of the dying process on each body system.
♦ Decreasing need for food and drink
♦ Heart rate changes (that vary according to the underlying condition)
♦ Decrease in blood pressure and the volume of Korotkoff sounds
♦ Cold, clammy skin
♦ Pale, ashen, or mottled skin
♦ Darkened skin at the sacrum and lower back
♦ Blanching of the skin when touched
♦ Diminished or adventitious breath sounds
♦ Moist-sounding respirations
♦ Dyspnea or air hunger
♦ Irregular breathing, or Cheyne-Stokes respirations
♦ Muscle weakness
♦ Drooping of the mouth
♦ Difficulty swallowing
♦ Relaxation of the tissues of the soft palate
♦ Decline in the gag reflex and reflexive clearing of the oropharynx
♦ Decreased urine output
♦ Urinary incontinence
Other signs and symptoms
♦ Moaning and grunting with breathing
♦ Agitation and restlessness
♦ Decreased communication (“transitional withdrawal” as a result of the body failing)
♦ Decreased vision
♦ Change in level of consciousness
♦ Visions of people and things not visible to others