Just as each of us lives a unique life, we will experience death in our own way. Sometimes, death comes suddenly and without warning. Other times, it is the result of a prolonged illness.
For some people, the body stays strong while the mind fades. For others, their body deteriorates and brings them a great deal of pain as they die.
If you or someone you love is facing a terminal illness, the fear of pain and suffering may be much more worrying than the fear of death itself.
How Common Is End Of Life Pain?
It’s difficult to quantify exactly, but most surveys find that severe pain is only reported in about 20-25% of people in the last few months of their life.
However, it becomes more common for patients with certain conditions, such as arthritis and heart disease, and approaches 80% in cases of advanced-stage cancer.
But even in cases described as unbearable suffering, pain is not always the most significant issue. Commonly reported struggles include:
- general discomfort
- tiredness or low-quality sleep
- loss of appetite
- feeling dependent on others
- loss of function and inability to do normal activities
Overall, it is not a certainty that you will experience significant pain at the end of your life, even in cases of cancer and other terminal illnesses.
One of the most common reasons for the undertreatment of end-of-life pain is that the patient did not report it to their doctors and nurses.
Your healthcare team can help you manage your pain and improve your quality of life. For that to happen, you need to be honest about how much pain you’re in and where it hurts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a three-step “ladder” approach to analgesic pain management:
1) First, mild pain should be treated with over-the-counter or nonopioid pain relievers such as aspirin or acetaminophen.
2) If that doesn’t work, the next step is to add a weak opioid such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and codeine.
3) Only if pain persists should a stronger opioid such as morphine be used.
Additional End Of Life Care
Treating pain is just one part of providing quality end-of-life care. Other important considerations include:
- emotional support for patients and their families
- spiritual guidance
- palliative care (care focused on improving quality of life)
- support of practical tasks
- counseling for depression, anxiety, fear, grief, and other common emotions
Love and support can provide great comfort and strength when it comes to bearing this difficult time.
Simple things such as physical touch, listening to music, and normal conversation can be extraordinarily helpful for both the patient and their loved ones.
If your loved one is approaching the end of their life, one of the best things you can do for them is to be present with them in the moment. Communicate with them and listen to what they have to say. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to laugh. Be there in the room with them and cherish the time you have left together.