Identifying Breathing Changes in Hospice

Changes in the breathing pattern often begin to happen when a person sleeps and become more noticeable as they approach the end of their life. As a hospice clinician or caregiver, these breathing changes can be concerning and anxiety-inducing.

However, it’s essential to understand that such changes are expected during the end-of-life process and do not necessarily indicate the person is suffering. This article will discuss various aspects of breathing changes in hospice care and provide remedies to manage these symptoms.

hospice breathing changes helping patient

Recognizing the Signs of Breathing Changes in Hospice Patients

When providing hospice care, it is crucial to be aware of the common signs that indicate changes in a patient’s breathing pattern. These may include:

  • Shallow, irregular breathing (8 or fewer breaths per minute)
  • Periods of no breathing (apnea) with 5 to 30 seconds or longer between breaths
  • Panting-type breaths (breathing rate above 25 breaths per minute)
  • Noisy, rattling, or gurgling sounds during breathing
  • Silent, very shallow mouth movements without taking in any air
hospice breathing changes

Remedies for Managing Breathing Changes in Hospice

Here are some remedies to help manage breathing changes and provide comfort to the patient in hospice care:

  1. Elevate the head of the bed
  2. Position the person on their side to help clear any secretions causing noisy breathing
  3. Avoid suctioning as it may cause discomfort and increase irritation
  4. Gently clean the mouth of sticky secretions using a dampened cloth, gauze, or moist sponge swab
  5. Consult your hospice care team for their suggestions, including medication to help manage symptoms
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Providing Comfort and Support

As a hospice caregiver, providing comfort and support is essential during this challenging time. Consider playing soft music, offering gentle touch, and reassuring the person you are close by. Remember that your hospice team can answer your questions and provide comforting care and support during this time.

Online Hospice Training for Better Understanding

Consider taking online hospice training courses to understand better and manage breathing changes in hospice care. These courses offer valuable insights and techniques to help you provide the best possible care to your patient. Investing in hospice education can enhance your caregiving skills, as well as your hospice team’s skills, and help everyone better understand the end-of-life process.


How long does end of life breathing last?

End-of-life, agonal, or Cheyne-Stokes respiration can vary significantly in duration. End-of-life breathing lasts from a few minutes to several hours and greatly depends on the patient’s situation.

What is the last dying breath called?

The last dying breath is called “agonal breath” or “agonal gasp.” It is an involuntary, reflexive breath that occurs as the body struggles for oxygen during the final moments of life. Agonal breath is seen in humans and animals. Irregular, labored breathing or gasping sounds and brief moments of partial or complete loss of consciousness characterize it.

What is open mouth breathing at the end of life?

End-of-life open mouth is a common symptom called agonal respiration. It occurs as the body’s respiratory system struggles to function efficiently, resulting in irregular, shallow, or labored breaths with the mouth open. Agonal respiration often occurs during the final stages of terminal illness or shortly before death and is generally considered a natural part of the dying process.

Share the Knowledge

If you found this article informative and valuable, please share it with your friends, colleagues, and caregivers. By spreading awareness about hospice care and breathing changes, you can help others navigate the end-of-life process with greater understanding and compassion.

In conclusion, by focusing on comfort and support, you can help make the end-of-life journey more peaceful and dignified for your loved one or patient.

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