Many people who live in residential aged care can become very frail. Deterioration in their health can be slow. It may be barely noticeable in the short term. They may have been expected to die, only to recover more than once, despite their frailties. It can seem as if they are going to live forever. They may have been receiving extra care over a long period of time while slowly their condition has worsened. Therefore, it may be hard to recognise that things have changed and accept that death is approaching.
When death is expected, palliative care becomes the appropriate care choice. Not everyone knows what palliative care is. It may be difficult to see why it is now appropriate. Palliative care helps with social, physical emotional and spiritual needs at the end-of-life. It neither prolongs nor shortens life. There is more information about palliative care throughout CareSearch.
When a person is dying they may lose interest in eating and drinking. They may be unable to safely swallow food and fluids. This can be very distressing for families who may fear that:
- their relative is being starved to death
- the resident is suffering from unrelieved thirst or hunger
- the person's care is being neglected, and
- they haven’t cared for their relative properly and ensured that all that should be done, was done.
As death nears, the body's systems shut down, the need for food decreases. Giving extra food and fluid can make the dying person uncomfortable. Giving small amounts of food and fluids as the person wants, and is able to take, is considered the best care. Giving mouth care makes them more comfortable. It also helps to relieve any sensation of thirst.
It is common for a dying person to be given small amounts of morphine. This is to relieve pain. It can also help with other symptoms such as difficulty breathing and distress. Morphine is very safe. It does not shorten life and it does not cause addiction when given for palliative care.