Knowing the signs of an impending death may help you better understand the dying process, whether you are thinking about your own situation, or the passing of a loved one. Keep in mind that some of these signs may not apply to everyone, as each dying process is unique.
Knowing the Signs of Death Within Hours
During the dying process, several signs of the body beginning to shut down will likely take place. This occurs whether the person in the dying process is passing away due to old age, or was in a sudden accident. The difference is that the dying process may progress more slowly for someone dying just from old age versus a person who was in an accident or experienced a sudden medical incident. Regardless of the reason someone is passing away, the final hours before death can be quite similar.
Shifts in Appearance
Right before death, blood pressure drops, the skin becomes cold to the touch, and skin may show signs of mottling. Mottling usually occurs about a week prior to passing away and can increase in its appearance hours before death.
Changes in Breathing
Within the final hours of an individual's life, breathing will shift. The normal breathing pattern that they typically displayed will change to a more inconsistent pattern. They may:
- Exhibit long pauses or breaks in breathing before resuming a breathing pattern.
- Take short breaths and then stop breathing for a period of time- known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing. This is greatly associated with heart and stroke related issues.
- Coughing, gasping, or the death rattle due to fluid build up.
- Gurgling sounds from fluid accumulation in the lungs and throat as they breathe.
As someone gets within hours of death, they may experience some psychological shifts. This can include:
- Vivid hallucinations that they may attempt to engage with.
- Auditory hallucinations that may feel scary or peaceful to them and may be confusing to witness as a bystander.
- Feeling agitated, confused, and disconnected.
Moments before death, an individual may call out for a significant other, while others may prefer to pass away alone.
Shifts in Consciousness
Close to passing away, an individual may go in and out of consciousness. There may be times where they are responsive, but they may also go into a coma right before passing away. Depending on the circumstance, shifts in consciousness will vary.
Odors or Smells Associated With Death
There are some smells associated with the dying process. Keep in mind that the smell of someone who has been passed away for a while is totally different from the smells that you may experience with a loved one in the process of passing away. Some possible smells include:
- A distinct smell when someone's kidneys begin to fail. This will be especially apparent if they are unable to use the toilet on their own and have an accident.
- There may also be a loss of control with their bowels which can lead to an unpleasant smell.
- An acetone-like smell may occur as the body continues shutting down.
Although some unpleasant smells may make an appearance, there is no guarantee that they will occur. Being prepared can help you from being surprised if an unpleasant odor shows up.
Understanding the Signs of Death Within Hours
Understanding the final, active stage of dying can help you cope with a loved one's passing, or better understand what dying may look like when you go through this process. Although it can feel challenging to dive into what the last few hours may look like, it can help you feel a bit more prepared for this process.