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. 

This YouTube video features death rattle sounds from the mouth of a dying patient. 

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