Symptoms of Decline

The truth is that only 10 percent of Americans will pass away suddenly. The remaining percentage will decline slower and grow weaker until death. Due to how slowly the decline can happen, it can go unnoticed that our elder loved one is perhaps approaching the end of life. This could be the reason why around 80 percent of Americans die in places like nursing homes, in spite of the fact that 85 percent want to pass away in their own home.

So, let’s look at some symptoms and signs that may show us that our elder loved one could be coming to the end of their lives. Death isn’t something anyone wants to think about, but it is a natural part of living. Knowing the signs and symptoms of decline can help us to better prepare ourselves for when the time comes.

There are a lot of different things that we could look at, but for this article we will focus on three areas in particular: weight loss, progressive weakness, and infections. 

There is a lot of research out there that shows weight loss on its own is a good indicator that someone may be coming to the end of life. Even something like five to ten percent loss of weight within six months can be significant, and just 10% weight loss can mean a mortality rate of 85% in six months. Significant weight loss may also be an indication that it’s time to call in hospice. People who are approaching the end of life often don’t want food or fluids.

The second indicator is an increasing dependency. Losing weight can also cause muscle loss, which can cause someone to get steadily weaker. It might begin with having trouble getting up from a chair, and progress to eventually being chair or bed bound. Being so immobile also puts the elderly at risk for skin deterioration and illnesses like pneumonia. 

The last indicator we’ll discuss here is a greater risk of developing infections. As we get older, our immune system declines. We mentioned pneumonia above, and those who are older than 75 are six times likelier to contract pneumonia than if they were 60. The reason for this is that the lung has lost elasticity. Also, changes within the brain and nervous system affect their ability to cough up secretions, which is essential to getting over pneumonia. 

So we’ve talked about a few of the signs of overall decline, and being able to notice these things early does, in fact, have a lot of advantages. You can share your thoughts and ideas on the final months of life with your healthcare provider, and he or she will better be able to support your plans. Services may be given at home so that your loved one doesn’t have to go to the hospital, and if you can arrange for hospice care, things like oxygen and medications to comfort them can be available in the event of a crisis.

If you think your loved one may be in the beginning stages of decline, you can ask for a “hospice consult,” and a nurse will visit your home and tell you and your healthcare provider about eligibility. It’s important to remember that in-home support and availability of comfort measures are very important to giving successful care for the end of life.