Friday, October 10, 2014

Death Rattle, Families, Signs of Dying (Research, Video 3:27)

A crackling, gurgling sound emanating from a dying person’s throat can distress onlookers who have not been prepared for this occurrence. Overwhelmed with fear and guilt, they often assume a loved one is choking to death. Caused by terminal secretions, these rattle-like breathing sounds which occur near death are commonly referred to as the death rattle. 

The level of consciousness in patients who appear to be actively choking while experiencing the death rattle is usually so low that it is generally assumed that they are not in pain. Death rattle research advises healthcare providers to reconsider the use of drugs to treat death rattle symptoms. Some of the drugs involved have negative side effects. Caregivers and loved ones should be educated regarding the death rattle experience and reassured about the unlikelihood of patients’ pain.

Supporting this need for more education is additional death rattle family research focused on bereaved family members who had witnessed the anxiety of watching a death rattle experience. This study involved 663 questionnaire surveys conducted in 95 palliative care units, Among family members who participated, 46% of respondents had witnessed the death rattle. Of these participants, 66% reported high distress levels, and 53% perceived a strong need for improved death rattle care.

This research concluded that family distress could be reduced by having medical staff lessen patients' symptoms with comprehensive and supportive care strategies. These strategies would include decreasing secretions and uncomfortable smells along with alleviating torment of family members through education.

Like every life, every death is also unique. This video explains other end-of-life signs of approaching death and gives a more complete description of what to expect. 

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog
--> -->


  1. Linda PremusOctober 13, 2014

    Frances, I had been with my grandmother when she passed. It was very peaceful, while sleeping she passed with a smile on her face that said she knew my sister and I were there and that it was ok with the grandchildren that she be in peace. She had already started the change in breathing before we got there, so the rest of the family was so happy that there was someone with her in those last moments here. I felt blessed that she chose us at that time. Later I was with a dear friend who died after battling cancer. He was in the hospital then brought home for hospice. He lived in a house that a lot of chaos, and I was relieved when the hospice personal came, as it made the rest quiet down. I also noticed that he would say things that were not what was his norm. Saying certain people were lying to him and trying to overdose him on the morphine, and wanted me to stay close always. He would only sip water or broth from me, and would get angry at the others. I'm sure they were hurt, but I knew it would pass. Later when traveling with my fiancée I found him dead on the floor due to a massive heart attack. The M.E. said there was nothing I could have done even if I was standing in front of him, but the pain is still there after 6 years. Right now I am caring for a dear man who was my fiancées best friend! He ha lived longer than anyone else born with this rare disease, but I can see and hear and feel a lot of what was explained in your video. I realize that this is hard on him too, as there was so many more things he wanted to do with his life! But we both know that there is only so much time so we do things that he is still able to do, try to let the negative things flow off the shoulders, and focus on what can be done. He prepared years ago for his death, but I don't think anyone really knows for sure how they'll feel when it comes. I know the time is short though. Thank you and god bless!

    1. Linda, you have learned a lot from your caregiving experiences and have provided great comfort to others on their death journey.

  2. Should make this available to many people who choose to care for people in their home..

  3. Yes, education is important, and caregiving is something most people will eventually experience as givers or receivers.