What Is Actively Dying, Its Signs and Stages

What Is Actively Dying, Its Signs and Stages

Around 870 deaths out of every 100,000 people in the U.S. are caused by sudden death and active dying each year. What exactly does this include?
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Accidents
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory disease
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Diabetes
  • Nephritis
  • Influenza
  • Pneumonia
  • Others
Active dying occurs over the course of several days, and patients and their loved ones need time to process this.

Below are the stages, signs, symptoms, timeline, and details on actively dying to help nursing attendants and patients’ families and friends cope and prepare their farewells.

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What Is Actively Dying?

Actively dying is the last stage of life prior to passing away. It is considered the final few days. Patients who are actively dying experience various end-of-life signs and symptoms. These could include things such as a person in a coma with an unexplained drop in their heart rate and blood pressure.

Active Stage Of Dying

The active stage of dying has two phases. The first stage is known as pre-active dying. A person will start to detach from social activities and spend more time sleeping. They will also lose appetite. Their bodies will find it hard to heal wounds.

The second stage is the active stage of dying. The person will have psychological confusions, and their body will experience end-of-life symptoms, like extreme vital sign changes and lessened responses to stimuli. This stage lasts for about a week but can last up to three weeks. Family and friends of the patients start to say their goodbyes at this stage. The patient is also asked to settle outstanding issues with relationships, finance, and more.

What Are The Signs That Someone Is Actively Dying?

Identifying the end-of-life signs of an actively dying person is important so that patients and families will be educated on the natural process of dying to arrive at informed decision-making. This also helps a patient’s loved ones to accept and prepare for death. Some of the preparations include updated care plans, funeral plans, and more.

Here are the active dying signs in an active dying timeline.

A week before final stages of death:

  • A patient has psychological confusions–delirium.
  • The patient experiences difficulty in swallowing food.
  • There is an accumulation of fluids in different parts of the body.
  • Unclear communication through words.
  • The patient’s skin is cold to the touch.
Signs 4-6 days before death:
  • Vital signs are not normal – heart rate is greater than 100 beats per minute, respiratory rate is less than 20 breaths per minute, and diastolic blood pressure is less than 60 millimeters of mercury (mmHg)
  • Patient’s consciousness level is low, they are always sleepy and tired.
  • Patient experiences difficulty in swallowing solids and liquids.
Signs 2-3 days before death:
  • The patient is bedridden.
  • There is a decreased response to stimuli. No response to touch in different parts of the body. No reaction from eye pupils. No reaction to speech.
  • Facial features change. The nasolabial fold is drooping.
  • Neck injury occurs where it becomes hyperextended.
Signs of death within hours:
  • There are long pauses in the breathing pattern.
  • Changes in blood pressure can be dropping in large numbers.
  • The patient’s skin will change in color and texture – mottling, and their temperature is cold.
  • The patient has no sign of movements and speech – coma, semi-coma, or unconscious.
  • Inconsistent urinary and bowel movements and the color of the urine and stool are not normal.
  • Patients experience serious psychological confusions – delusions, hallucinations, and delirium.
  • The patient has a build-up of fluid in the lungs and is usually observed with gurgling sounds while breathing.
  • The patient’s eyelids can’t be closed.
  • Patient grunts and strains their vocal cords.
  • The patient has a high fever.
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How To Help Someone In The Dying Phase

Suppose you want to help someone who is in the active dying phase. You can talk to them, reassuring them about your presence throughout the process. You can also give them gentle touches as a sign of comfort from the pain and struggles of the experience.

You can also take care of and watch over them. When they experience hardships and need nursing and physician assistance throughout the phase, you can call for assistance and ask for necessary medications.

As the person becomes bedridden, you may also need to provide them with pads and diapers for urinary and bowel movements. You need to change and clean them when they are full.

You can also learn some basic knowledge on the symptoms of the dying person, such as irregular breathing. You can help out by elevating the patient’s head with pillows.

When Should You Opt For Hospice Care?

The moment you think you need hospice care is the time you need hospice providers. If you’re having difficulty balancing time between work and taking care of your loved one who’s in an active dying stage, they will help you and give you the specialized support you need.

Most people would call hospice care providers in the final stages of death where the patient needs full attention since they can’t move and do anything independently. However, even at the early stage of death, you can get specialized nursing care, necessary medical equipment, and supplies to provide the patient greater comfort during the final phase of their life.

Hospice care can also give you additional support and knowledge throughout the dying process. This is so you can also manage your own health and emotions. Instead of having no time to eat, walk, dress, and do your tasks because of the inevitable anxiety, you’ll have some time to take care of yourself while taking care of your loved ones.

Besides the final stages of death, physicians advise hospice care upon diagnosing a terminal disease where patients are given less than six months to live. Hospice care provides the proper treatments and knowledge that patients and their families need at this critical time.

Hospice Care Team

A team forms hospice care to take care of the patient, educate them and their family members and assist with their needs.

Here are the members of the team of each hospice care:

Physician And Nurses

The duties of a physician and nurse are to give care to the patients by providing treatments and medications. They also discuss the risks and benefits of procedures patients and families want to do. They orient the family on the expected time of death and describe what to expect with the patient’s dying process.

Social Worker And Chaplain

Dying is not an easy topic to discuss. Social workers and chaplains help patients and families process their emotions throughout the situation. They also help patients review their life for different realizations, including their purpose of living. Lastly, they are the ones who conduct life closures for relationships, such as forgiveness and saying farewell.

Other Hospice Aides

Other aids have one primary objective: to support the patient and their loved ones in the dying process. They also communicate the signs of dying to the family members to help them make decisions for treatments and other medications.


Death is a hard reality to process. The active dying process lasts days to weeks and takes a toll on both the patient and their family and friends.

With the help of All American Hospice, patients will be given the proper care, and their loved ones will have the support they need. We have professionals who can regularly visit to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support. Call us today.

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