What are you concerned about?

It's entirely natural that you might have concerns, or questions about the care being provided for a dying person.

In this page, we hope to answer some of those questions, but if you need more support and advice, visit our page with links to more organisations that might be able to help.

Does the person I am caring for need medication? If so, which medication, and how do I get hold of it?

  • Your GP can give information about this, and prescribe it. If the person is in hospital or a hospice, the doctor looking after them can discuss medication with you.
  • The pharmacist can also give information about different medications.
  • The person's doctor can also suggest using alternative ways of giving the medicine if the person has difficulty swallowing, or keeping it down.

The person has experienced some kind of physical change

  • Look at the section describing some of the changes you can expect to see in the last days of life.
  • Talk to the nurse or doctor looking after the person to find out what they think is happening.

The person feels sick or is vomiting

  • The doctor or nurse will be able to give some anti-sickness (known as 'anti-emetic') medication. Sometimes these medications may have to be given as injections under the skin, often using a machine called a 'syringe driver'.
  • Apply a cool, damp cloth to the person's forehead.
  • Avoid strong smells, such as air freshener, aftershave/perfume, or smells from cooking.
  • Give the person smaller amounts of food rather than large meals.

Will the person's pain get worse as they get closer to dying?

  • Not necessarily. You can look out for body language which may tell you if a person is in pain, such as wincing, flinching, clenching their teeth, stiffening of the body or a scrunched up forehead. The person may moan occasionally but this could be just an involuntary sound or caused by a change in breathing rather than because they are in pain.
  • You can help by letting the doctor or nurse know as they will be able to check the person and give extra medication to help if needed. If the person had been taking painkillers, usually this will need to be continued. If they cannot swallow, they may need this to be given by injection, possibly using a syringe driver (or pump) described above.

How can I make the person more comfortable?

The nurse or doctor can give you advice about this. They can also help by:

  • Arranging an assessment of what equipment the person needs;
  • Providing equipment for physical care (e.g. mouth care sticks);
  • Showing you how to use this equipment.
Talk to an occupational therapist about what equipment the person needs.

A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can also help with the person's breathing and movement.

The person seems distressed, or is experiencing difficult emotions: they may be feeling angry, scared, guilty or confused

  • A chaplain or spiritual care co-ordinator is trained to help people who are experiencing such feelings. They can provide support for the person who is dying and those who are important to them, whether or not they hold a religious belief.
  • If the person does have religious beliefs, they can also receive a visit from their local faith leader.
  • A counsellor, social worker or psychologist, as well as a nurse, may also be able to offer support.

Where else can I turn for help?

  • The GP or nurse will know of local services.
  • Your local hospice or palliative care team can advise on all aspects of care in the last days of life.
  • There are also lots of services that provide support for carers, often run by charities.

What does hospice care mean to you?