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Caring for someone at the end of their life

Caring for someone approaching the end of their life is an emotional time. You might be trying to support others as well as the person you’re caring for, and feel tired and unable to manage.

Or, you might wish the end would come quickly, and then feel guilty for thinking that way.

Tips from other carers

Tips for supporting the person you are caring for include:

  • make the room as comfortable as possible, with the person’s favourite things nearby
  • use touch as a form of comfort and to express feelings
  • play their favourite music
  • read to them, whether it’s a book, a favourite poem, the lyrics of a favourite song or a piece of news you found interesting.

Tips to help you cope with your own feelings:

  • focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t
  • know that sometimes ‘being there’ is all that’s needed
  • recognise when you need help
  • let relatives, friends, neighbours and volunteers help
  • help the staff caring for your family member with tasks like bathing or brushing hair
  • share your anxiety or concerns with someone you trust
  • have some short breaks
  • make some time for yourself each day, even if only for a few minutes
  • have some plans in place to make it easier to cope through bad times
  • keep family and friends informed – some of them will want to be there at the end to offer support when you most need it
  • do some form of exercise, even if it’s simply deep breathing
  • write down how you’re feeling
  • don’t be afraid to cry – it can be very therapeutic.

As a carer, it is important that you look after yourself. If you’re feeling physically unwell, visit your doctor. If you are feeling worried or need some support, talk to someone about your caring role.

There are services for carers that provide extra help for you at this time. This includes counselling or help to let you to have a short break from your caring role (respite care).

Helping health professionals

You are an important link between the person receiving care and health professionals. You have first-hand knowledge of the person you’re caring for and you’re more likely to know:

  • their allergies and reactions to foods or medications
  • how they might think or feel in certain situations
  • whether they’d prefer care at home
  • their wishes about comfort, pain relief and treatment
  • their cultural and spiritual preferences
  • the nature and types of support needed.

Ask for extra support

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s for yourself or for the person you’re caring for.

If you can’t give as much time to caring as you’d like to, you might want to think about respite care for the person you’re taking care of. This can be just a short stay in an aged care home so you can take a break. If they’re already in an aged care home and you think they need more support, you can ask the home if you can pay for extra staff hours to help.

If you’re concerned the person you’re caring for is experiencing pain or other symptoms, talk to medical and nursing professionals about your concerns.

Carer counselling

Short-term counselling and emotional support for carers is available through the National Carer Counselling Program. This can help reduce your stress and improve your coping skills. Contact a Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre on 1800 052 222 to find out more about.

Carer support groups

Carer support groups can also be a good place to talk about feelings. You can meet other carers with similar experiences and hear how they have coped. Contact a Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre on 1800 052 222 to find out more about carer support groups.

Grief counselling

When someone close to you dies you may have trouble coping with feelings of grief. It might be helpful to talk about these feelings with someone from outside your circle of family or friends. More information on grief counselling and other carer support services is available on the Carer Gateway website.

Next steps

Read more about end-of-life care.

Last reviewed: 14 May, 2018.