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End of Life

What Is End-of-Life Care?

At the end of life, each story is different. Death comes suddenly, or a person lingers, gradually fading. For some older people, the body weakens while the mind stays alert. Others remain physically strong, but cognitive losses take a huge toll. Although everyone dies, each loss is personally felt by those close to the one who has died.

End-of-life care is the term used to describe the support and medical care given during the time surrounding death. Such care does not happen only in the moments before breathing ceases and the heart stops beating. Older people often live with one or more chronic illnesses and need a lot of care for days, weeks, and even months before death.

When a doctor says something like, “I’m afraid the news is not good. There are no other treatments for us to try. I’m sorry,” it may close the door to the possibility of a cure, but it does not end the need for medical support. Nor does it end the involvement of family and friends.

There are many ways to provide care for an older person who is dying. Such care often involves a team. If you are reading this, then you might be part of such a team.

The articles in this topic are written for caregivers and include suggestions from healthcare providers with expertise in helping individuals and families through this difficult time. Read about what you or a loved one might expect near the end of life, including:Photo album and glasses on a hospital bed

The information provided in these articles does not replace the personal and specific advice of the doctor or other experts, but it can help you make sense of what is happening and give you a framework for making care decisions. The resources listed at the end of each article may offer further information and help.

Being a caregiver for someone at the end of life can be physically and emotionally exhausting. In the end, accept that there may be no perfect death, just the best you can do for the one you love. And, the pain of losing someone close to you may be softened a little because, when you were needed, you did what you could.

For More Information About End-of-Life Care

National Institute of Nursing Research

HealthInAging Foundation
1-800-563-4916 (toll-free)

Center to Advance Palliative Care

National Alliance for Caregiving

National Alliance for Hispanic Health
1-866-783-2645 toll-free)