According to Wikipedia, a “death rattle is a gurgling or rattle-like noise produced shortly before or after death by the accumulation of excessive respiratory secretions in the throat. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow, resulting in such an accumulation. While it is medically established that the death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex. It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death. In terminal care, drugs may be used to reduce secretions and minimize this effect.”
A study reported in Palliative Medicine was done to see how the death rattle sounds impacted hospice staff and volunteers. Most expressed negative feelings about hearing the sounds. Many felt the need to intervene to end the sounds using a therapeutic option. The study concluded that “doctors and nurses need to consider why, when and how they intervene and the consequences of that intervention.” You can read more about this study here.
Visit here for more current (2013) research and other information about the death rattle experience.
Visit here to hear a recording of the death rattle sound.
It would be interesting to read firsthand information from hospice workers, healthcare staff members, and other caregivers regarding their personal experiences with a patient during a death rattle experience.