Knowing death may be near is often difficult to deal with or comprehend. Signs a person is close to dying include decreased appetite, vital sign changes, weakness, and increased sleeping.

This article explores 11 signs that death is approaching. It goes on to look at the signs that indicate a person has died and discusses how to cope with the death of a loved one.

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When a person is terminally ill, they may be in hospital or receiving palliative care. It is important for their loved ones to recognize the signs that death may be near. These signs are explored below.

Decreasing appetite

As a person approaches death, they become less active. This means their body needs less energy. They may stop eating or drinking as much as their appetite gradually reduces.

A person may completely stop eating before they die. When this happens, it helps to keep their lips moistened with lip balm so that they are not uncomfortable.

Sleeping more

In the time before a person dies, they may spend less time awake.

If a person is caring for a dying loved one who is sleepy, they should make them comfortable and let them sleep. Caregivers should help the person change position in bed every 1–2 hours. Hearing is often the last sense that a person loses, so continuing to speak to them in a calm, quiet voice can provide reassurance.

Changing toilet habits

Because a dying person is eating and drinking less, their bowel movements may reduce. They may pass solid waste less often. They may also urinate less frequently. If a person loses control of urination, speaking to the hospital about a catheter for the person may help.

These changes can be distressing to witness in a loved one, but they are to be expected.

Weakening muscles

In the days leading up to a person’s death, their muscles may become weak.

Weak muscles mean the individual may not be able to carry out the small tasks that they were able to previously. Drinking from a cup or turning over in bed may no longer be tasks they can do.

If this happens to a dying person, their loved ones should help them lift things or turn over in bed.

Changing vital signs

As a person approaches death, their vital signs may change in the following ways:

  • blood pressure drops
  • breathing changes
  • heartbeat becomes fast, faint, or irregular
  • a pulse may be hard to detect

Dropping body temperature

In the days before a person dies, their circulation reduces so that blood is focused on their internal organs. This means very little blood flows to their hands, feet, or legs.

Reduced circulation means a dying person’s skin will be cold to the touch. Their skin may also look pale or mottled with blue and purple patches.

The person who is dying may not feel cold themselves. Offering them a blanket is a good idea if a relative or friend thinks they may need one.

Changing breathing

A person who is dying may seem like they are having trouble breathing. Their breathing may suddenly change speed, and they may make grunting, gurgling, or rattling noises when breathing.

If someone caring for a loved one notices this, they should try not to worry. They can try find a position that makes breathing easier for the person, bet it on their back, side, sitting up, or other position.

It is a good idea to speak to the doctor for advice if someone is concerned about this change in breathing pattern.

Increasing pain

It may be difficult to come to terms with the fact that treatment cannot manage a person’s pain levels as they near death.

Seeing a pained expression or hearing a noise that sounds pained is never easy.

Becoming less social

As a dying person’s energy levels reduce, they may not be able to spend as much time with other people as they once did.

If a dying person starts to withdraw from interpersonal situations, their loved ones should try not to be offended. If this is the case, it is advisable to arrange visits when the person dying is up to seeing someone.

Experiencing confusion

When a person is dying, they may become confused or incoherent at times. This may happen if they lose track of what is happening around them.

A person caring for a loved one who is dying should make sure to keep talking with them. Explaining what is happening around them and introducing each visitor is important.


It is not unusual for a person who is dying to experience some hallucinations or distorted visions.

Although this may seem concerning, it is important not to cause additional distress. It may help to remind the person of the time of the day, what is happening, and who is with them. Calm, confident tones can reduce the risk of startling the patient.

In the hours before a person dies, their organs shut down, and their body stops working. It is not always clear when this happens.

A person caring for a dying loved one in their last hours should make them feel as comfortable as they can.

It is a good idea to keep talking with a dying person right up until they pass away. They can often still hear what is going on around them.

If a dying person is attached to a heart rate monitor, those around them will be able to see when their heart has stopped working, meaning that they have died.

Other signs of death include:

  • not having a pulse
  • not breathing
  • no muscle tension
  • eyes remaining fixed
  • bowel or bladder releasing

When it is confirmed that a person has died, their loved ones may want to spend some time at their side.

Once they have said goodbye, the family should make contact with a funeral home. The funeral home will then remove the person’s body and prepare for their funeral.

When a person dies in the hospice or hospital, the staff will contact the funeral home on the family’s behalf.

Even when it is expected, the death of a loved one is never easy to cope with for those who were close to them.

People must give themselves the time and space to grieve. They should also seek support from friends and family.

Every person deals with grief in a different way. But there are some common feelings and experiences that people may want to share. For this reason, bereavement support groups may be useful.

Support groups help people explore their grief in a consoling environment with other people facing a similar experience. There are a range of support groups to explore listed on the website