If you have a loved one who is living in an aged care facility, you may notice a deterioration from week to week, and then maybe from one day to the next, or it may be that staff notify you of changes. When your loved one is nearing the end of their life, you will be assisted by the staff in making decisions regarding managing their care options. They will also be able to give you guidance on the resources available to give emotional and spiritual support.
If they were not discussed before entering the aged care facility, it is now imperative for the person to have an Advanced Health Directive and/or various Powers of Attorney and a Will completed, especially if their condition is likely to deteriorate quickly. (See our related articles here).
It is important to monitor your loved one for nonverbal signs and small behavioural changes that can signal changing needs. As a carer, you can assist the staff by communicating your observations and events to the medical team, to provide valuable information towards the management of discomfort and pain. Consider non-medical alternatives to comfort your loved one, like touching, massage, music, talking, photos and fragrances.
Health professionals are not able to give you an accurate estimation of when death will occur, however, they will be able to discuss signs that your loved one is in the final stages of life. These may include breathing patterns, restlessness, changes in skin colour, lapsing into unconsciousness and an inability to swallow fluids or food.
Discuss with the staff whether you would like to assist with any of your loved one’s personal care; eg bathing, massaging hands and feet, keeping their mouth moist by giving small sips of fluid. If you are concerned about leaving, it’s important to let the staff know and ensure they have the correct phone numbers if they need to contact you. Ask the staff if you can call at any time to check on your loved one’s condition.
A person nearing the end of their life may need to leave an aged care facility if it can’t provide the care and support that is required.
Families are often uncertain what to do when a loved one dies. You are free to stay with your loved one as long as you wish, although as a courtesy, you may need to confirm with the staff if it is okay to stay longer. You can touch, talk or embrace your loved one to say goodbye in whatever way you want. Inform the staff if it is important to you to pack your loved one’s belongings yourself, or if you would prefer the staff to do this task for you.