Stages of Death Family Resource

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What you will see


What is happening to the body

Early Stage

A decrease in appetite, both eating and drinking that can last for a few days or weeks. Eating may become Eating may become more of a burden than a pleasure. There may be frequent choking on fluids, and the person.   As death approaches, the body begins to conserve energy and requires less nourishment. There is no hunger or suffering during this process. IV fluids an or artificial feeding does not promote comfort or prevent death.
Mid Stage

Changes in physical appearance that may last a few hours or days. The person becomes less responsive to other people and their surroundings. Eventually, the person is unable to speak or move. This usually occurs during the last few days of life.   The circulation is slowing down and the blood is being reserved for the major body organs.The person is preparing for release and detaching from relationships and surroundings. This a physical and spiritual response to the dying process.
Late Stage

Intermittent disorientation and restlessness may occur in most patients, and it may increase in the last few days.

This is due, in part, to the changes occurring in the patientís metabolism.

You will notice a gradual decrease in the patientís urine output. If the patient has an indwelling urinary catheter the urine may appear very dark. Bowel movements may stop altogether or the patient may lose bowel control.


As the circulation decreases, kidney and bowel function may be reduced. Muscles may relax and the patient may be lose bowel control.

Breathing becomes irregular. The patientís breaths may be shallow with long pauses in between breaths.The duration between breaths is more frequent with greater pauses in between as death approaches.


Circulation to the internal organs, especially the heart and lungs.

Congestion in the lungs will increase and a rattle in the throat may be heard during the last few hours. Noisy breathing does not necessarily mean discomfort.


Throat muscles begin to relax and the lungs lose their ability to clear fluids.

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