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. On this page, we explain how you can care for a loved one at the end of their life, how your role as a carer will change and the support that’s available to help you cope.

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At the end of a person’s life, 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.

Your caring role may change if the person you care for moves into permanent residential care or a hospice or has full-time care at home. If you lived together, but their circumstances or health mean that you no longer do, it’s important to think about how much time you still spend helping the person you care for, even if you now live apart.

You may still devote much of your time to caring from a distance, managing their affairs, and dealing with health care professionals. If you still fall into the definition of ‘carer’ you may be entitled to help and benefits.

If the person you care for moves into residential care or a hospice, you should discuss with them and staff how often you can visit.

What practical things can I do to take for a loved one at the end of life?

It’s thought 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
  • 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 your loved one’s 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.

Death and dealing with bereavement

When the person you care for dies, you will probably feel a range of emotions. You may feel a great sense of loss when they pass away.

As well as coping with the loss of the person you cared for, you might need to cope with the loss of your caring role.

It might be when the practical arrangements have been made and the funeral has passed that you start to grieve. However, some people experience strong feelings such as loss, grief and mourning before the person has died.

At this time, and throughout your time as a carer, it is important you take time for yourself and seek the help you need.

You may want to share your feelings with family and friends but, equally, you may not feel comfortable doing this. Some people find it easy to talk to a particular person – don’t be afraid to let them know how you feel. We have more information about grieving and life after the death of a loved one you might find useful to read.

Adjusting to life when your caring role changes

It can be hard to adjust to life when your caring role alters or comes to an end. You may find you have more time on your hands and decide to spend time with your family and friends, take up a new skill or go back to work. You may find that the exhaustion of having been a carer for a long time catches up with you.

Whatever you do, there are practical issues you should deal with promptly:

  • Central government and local authority support – if you claim carer’s allowance or had a carer’s assessment or any other financial help towards your caring role, you must inform the relevant authorities that you are no longer a carer. If you lived with someone whose housing was subsidised or provided by the state, and you no longer live with them, the local authority needs to know.
  • GP – if you told your doctor about your caring role, tell them about any changes.

Carers UK has advice and suggestions about what you can do and how to cope when your caring role changes or ends.

Read next: What to do at time of death

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