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Restlessness and agitation

The person may become more restless and agitated.

This may happen in the last few days of life, though the person may become more peaceful again before they die.

Sometimes they may appear confused and may not recognise familiar faces. They may hallucinate, and see or hear people or things that are not actually there – for instance, they may see pets or people who have died.

Should you be worried?

Restlessness and agitation can be caused by many things. It may be manageable by quiet reassurance and the comfort of people like you who are close to the person, though it may still be distressing for you to see.

Agitation could also be caused by physical problems, like constipation or difficulty passing urine – ask the doctor or nurse caring for the person if you are concerned about this.

If the dying person does not recognise you, this may be distressing for you but it is not a sign that they feel differently about you. More likely, it is that they are unable to clearly distinguish between what is real and what is not – especially if they are a bit sleepy and drifting in and out of full consciousness, rather like what can happen when we are half-awake or half asleep.

Is there anything you can do to help?

Simply sitting with the person may often help to calm them down. Keeping things as normal as possible may help comfort the person.
You can also talk to the doctor or nurse, as they can check if there is any treatable reason for this or may be able to offer medication to help settle the person’s anxiety.

You can help by:

  • speaking clearly and audibly to the person
  • telling/reminding them who you are (and being prepared to do so repeatedly) keeping their surroundings calm with minimal changes in noise level
  • trying not to correct them if they say something wrong, or insist on them getting things accurate, as this may be upsetting for you and for them.
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