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How to Care for a Dying Elderly Person

by Jill Avery-Stoss

Although dying is a natural and necessary process, it can be a time of intense emotion. If you are caring for an elderly person nearing the end of life, you are likely to be concerned with her physical and emotional comfort, along with her practical affairs. By gathering information and preparing as much as possible, you can minimize the potential stresses experienced by everyone involved during this significant time.

Physical Comfort

Your loved one might experience breathing problems, pain, skin irritation, sensitivity to temperature or fatigue. Ease her breathing by helping her adjusting her position to lie at an incline, or by using a fan or vaporizor to circulate the air in the room. Minimize her pain by carefully following doctors' instructions regarding her medications. Give her ice chips to ease her thirst, and apply alcohol-free lotion along with damp cloths to relieve skin irritation. Be vigilant for signs that your loved one is too hot or cold, such as throwing off blankets or shivering, and adjust room temperature accordingly. Help her preserve her energy by offering sponge baths instead of showers, or the use of a bedpan instead of the bathroom.

Emotional Comfort

As the elderly person is dying, you will notice various mental and emotional needs. She may reminisce, express regret, be concerned with resolving conflicts with others, fret about practical affairs or struggle with fear of the unknown. The most essential things you can do in these cases is listen and offer support. Encourage her to continue discussing her emotions, and remind her that her feelings are understandable and normal. She might also be comforted by physical contact, such as hand-holding, or being held and gently rocked.

Practical Matters

Your elderly companion may be preoccupied with practical issues. She might have concerns about who will pay household bills, or who will handle housework. Worries about how others are coping with their impending loss are also possible. You may ease some of these concerns by coordinating visits with friends, family members and clergy. Further, you can maintain detailed information about all necessary arrangements. These may include everything from organizing complex estate-related matters to the task of who will be caring for beloved pets left behind.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

Dedicating your resources to an elderly person who is coming to the end of her life will inevitably take a physical, mental and emotional toll on you. To provide the best care possible, you must also tend to your own well-being. Maintain a healthy diet, get sufficient rest and exercise regularly. Spend time with friends and family members, sharing your feelings and concerns with them. You might consider working with an experienced counselor or therapist throughout this time. It is critical to enlist help with caregiving responsibilities, so that you may take breaks when necessary. Creating schedules around tasks and responsibilities may also be helpful.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

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