How to Care for a Dying Loved One

By Rachelle Ehlert

Caring for a dying loved one is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and emotionally charged experiences one can go through. It's a time when compassion, patience, and understanding are paramount. While it can be emotionally taxing, it can also be a deeply meaningful experience for you and your loved one.

Learn how family members can provide provide the best possible care and support for their loved ones during their final journey.

What Is End-of-Life Care?

End-of-life care refers to the emotional support and medical care given to a loved one as they approach death. This type of care can last for months or days, depending on an older adult's health.

End-of-life care looks different for each individual due to their health and personal preferences. Some seniors want to remain at home, while others may seek treatment in a hospital. However, many seniors want to be surrounded by family or friends.

During this time, there are many ways that family caregivers can help their loved ones pass peacefully and as comfortably as possible.

Tips for End-of-Life Care

Open and Honest Communication

A dying loved one may still be able to communicate during the early stages of end-of-life care. During this delicate time, involve your loved one and have open conversations about their feelings, fears, and wishes. Ask them what they need to feel most comfortable and at peace.

You may even want to start these discussions long before end-of-life care is on the radar. Discussing end-of-life care preferences, such as palliative care services, hospice, or care at home, will help you make decisions together.

As your loved one loses the ability to communicate, it's important that you still speak to them directly. As you provide care, tell them what you are going to do before you do it. Never speak about your loved one as if they aren't in the room.

It's also important that you have open communications with your family members. They will want to be involved, too, as your loved one nears the end of their life. However, high emotions during this time can often make communication with family members more difficult.

RELATED CONTENT: Maintaining Dignity for Seniors Dying at Home

Empathy and Active Listening

Empathy is an essential quality when caring for a dying loved one. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand their emotional and physical pain. Pay attention to their words, tone, and body language. Sometimes, just being there and listening without judgment can provide tremendous comfort.

It may be hard to talk about these things with your loved one and face the reality of life without them. You may not know what to say or how to say it. However, do not withdraw. Your loved one needs you more than ever during this time.

Respect Autonomy

Especially when caring for a loved one at home, it's important to respect their autonomy. While you can offer guidance and support, it's essential to honor their choices, even if they differ from your own preferences.

It can be difficult for families to accept scenarios where their loved one foregoes medical treatment in a care facility to help extend their life. However, Your role is to ensure they have the information and resources they need to make informed decisions about their care.

Create a Comfortable Environment

A comfortable and soothing environment can make a significant difference in your loved one's final days. Ensure their room is clean and clutter-free. Incorporate familiar and cherished items like photos, blankets, or music to create a sense of comfort and familiarity. You may also want to use soft lighting in the room because your loved one may be more sensitive to bright lights.

Check the temperature in the room to make sure it is comfortable. As individuals get loser to death, they may become more sensitive to temperature. Their extremities, like arms and legs, can become cold to the touch. Watch for sigs that your loved one is too cold or even too warm.

Another way you can create a calm environment is through smell and sound. You could light a candle or use incense that your loved one likes. You could also play some soft, soothing sounds, like music or even nature noises, to help with relaxation.

Pain Management

Pain management is a crucial aspect of end-of-life care, although not all individuals will experience pain. If your loved one is in pain, work with healthcare professionals to ensure your they receive adequate pain relief. This can significantly improve their quality of life during this challenging time.

Knowing how much pain your loved one is in can be difficult. Watch for changes in their behavior that could indicate discomfort or pain. For example, increased agitation, crying, and trouble sleeping.

It's best to stay ahead of severe pain and prevent it if possible. Extreme pain can be difficult to manage and get under control. During end-of-life-care, medical teams focus on comfort and may provide powerful pain killers instead of focusing on the long-term affects or risk of addiction.

RELATED CONTENT: Are Costly End-of-Life Surgeries Worth It

Skin Care

As someone passes away, they can develop skin irritation and dryness easily. Help keep their skin moisturized with alcohol-free lotion. If you notice dry patches around the eyes, gently apply an eye cream or lotion. You can also place a damp cloth over their eyes to help.

You'll also want to make sure their lips aren't dry by applying petroleum jelly regularly. If you notice that the inside of their mouth seems dry, try giving them small pieces of ice or wiping the inside of their mouth with a damp cotton ball.

As your loved one lies in a bed for long periods of time, they may also develop pressure sores or ulcers. Watch for discoloration of the skin, especially on their hips, heels, and back. Ensure that your loved one is turned every few hours to help prevent sores.

Celebrate Life

While it may be challenging, try to celebrate the life of your loved one during this time. Share stories, memories, and moments of joy with family members and loved ones. Acknowledge their accomplishments and the love they brought into your lives.

If your loved one is conscious, ask them about some of their favorite memories and accomplishments. These celebrations can provide comfort and create meaningful connections.

Offer Companionship

Simply being present can provide immense comfort. Hold their hand, offer soothing words, and be a source of companionship. Your physical presence can be a source of solace during this challenging journey.

Research suggests that physical touch and hearing are the last senses to go when we die. Even if your loved one is not conscious, they may still feel your warm touch and listen to your calming words. Knowing that you are there can provide them with peace.

Seek Professional Support

Caring for a dying loved one can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Don't forget to take care of yourself and encourage other family members and friends to do the same. Seek support from hospice services, counseling, or support groups to help you cope with the emotional toll of caregiving.

It may also be beneficial to hire a professional caregiver or a hospice team for respite care. Having someone else there to focus on physical needs can allow you to focus more on emotional needs and spiritual support. It also gives you the space to reflect on your relationship with your loved one instead of on being a caretaker.

These individuals can also help guide you through the dying process and help you prepare for what to expect. They may also be able to notice additional signs that the end is near.


Caring for a dying loved one is an act of profound love and compassion. While it comes with challenges, it can also offer moments of deep connection and growth. By fostering open communication, showing empathy, and creating a comfortable environment, you can provide the best possible care for your loved one during their final journey.

If you need support while caring for a dying loved one, our caregivers are here to help. We can provide the physical support that your loved one needs and the emotional support that your family needs. Reach out to your local team to learn more.

Tags: Senior Health, Family Caregiver, End of Life