End of life

How do I care for a loved one at the end of life?

It can be difficult to see death approaching for someone you love or care about.

During this time, it can help to think and talk about what is important to you and your loved one about how they are cared for. Tell their nurses and doctors about their wishes.

Think about what you could or would like to do. Also consider what support you need as a carer. Think how others can help you, such as doing the shopping or walking the dog , or sitting with your loved one when you need to leave them.

We think that hearing is the last sense to go before death, so you can give care and support to your loved one by:

  • spending time together and sharing memories and stories
  • talking about people you know
  • listening to their worries and concerns
  • playing music
  • listening to the radio or reading together

There are also practical steps you can take, such as:

  • moistening their mouth and lips with water, moisturiser or lip salve (but if they are on oxygen, don’t use any petroleum-based products)
  • recognising what keeps them comfortable, such as gently moving their arms and legs to reposition them if that seems to help

It can be very comforting to sit with your loved one and keep them company. Don’t be afraid to take turns with your friends and family.

Don’t worry if the person you care for doesn’t seem to respond very much. As the end of their life approaches, weakness and lack of consciousness increase. It is this, rather than a lack of appreciation for you, that may stop them responding.

What support can health care professionals give me?

Members of the health care team can give advice and offer help with controlling symptoms such as pain, breathlessness or chesty secretions. Your health care professional can also help to provide practical care with equipment to maintain comfort, such as special beds

Next: What to do at the time of death >

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Download our end of life PDF (313KB)

Last medically reviewed: March 2018. Due for review: March 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.