Preparing for death and dying at home

As a caregiver, there are some things you need to consider in preparing for death and dying at home for the person you are caring for.

Knowing what to do

It is important to know that the decision to die at home or care for someone to die at home is not an easy one.  Caring for someone who is dying at home can both be rewarding and at the same time hard work. You and your loved one must be in agreement that dying at home is something you both want.

    • Talk to the person in your care about the plan, your feelings, and any concerns you may have
    • Reach out to family/friends to assist you – this may include providing meals or running errands but does not have to include providing hands on care
    • Discuss what the backup plan is if the person decides that they do not want to be at home:
      • Is a residential hospice available?
      • Is there a palliative care unit available?
  • Discuss this plan with the primary physician, home care nurse and other members of the health care team so that everyone is aware
  • Learn what you can expect as a palliative caregiver in the last weeks, days, and hours of life so that you are prepared for the changes you might see
  • Tell the health care team about any cultural, spiritual, or religious rights/rituals that are important to you and the person in your care

Planning for death and dying – how you can help

There are a number of things that you can do as a caregiver to help yourself, as well as the person in your care.

  • Learn how to give medications
  • Play music, read stories, or simply talk to the person in your care
  • Turn the person every two to four hours, depending on how comfortable they are and if necessary, ask for advice from your home care nurse
  • Apply lotion and give back, leg, and foot rubs as needed to keep the skin moisturized
  • Moisten the person’s lips with Vaseline or lip balm to prevent dryness and cracking
  • Create a plan for visitors but take cues from the person in your care as to when enough is enough
  • Make funeral arrangements with a funeral home and let them know you are preparing for death at home

If you feel overwhelmed and feel like you cannot go on providing palliative care, talk to the home care nurse, primary physician, or another member of the health care team and get the help you need.

Who to call and other practical tips

Dying at home can have its challenges so preparing in advance will assist you.

  • Keep the phone numbers of the home care nurses and other members of the health care team close by – the home care nurse can help you determine who should be called first
  • Keep information about care and the people to call in a single location or notebook
  • Prepare a list of important people to call near or at the time of death

Remember to call for help if the person you are caring for is uncomfortable, has trouble breathing, is restless or agitated, has fallen, or is not taking their medications. The home care nurse and/or physician can assist with getting any issues resolved.

3 thoughts on “Preparing for death and dying at home

  1. Who signs the death certificate, of a patient dying at home.

    • Hi Gloria,

      There is a difference between ‘pronouncing a death’ and a death certificate. Nurses or physicians caring for the person in the home often pronounce the death. Funeral homes can sign death certificates.

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