How long does death last

Signs of dying: how do you recognize impending death?

Each dying process is individual and varies in duration and severity. Still, there are some signs that life is coming to an end and death is imminent.

When dying, the functions of the organs cease, which ultimately leads to death. This process of dying, i.e. the decline in body functions, does not happen from one minute to the next, but can drag on for several hours and days, so there is no fixed point in time.

In many cases, there are external signs and physical changes, so-called signs of death, that can point to an imminent death. The various stages of dying that the body goes through in the last hours before death often include, among other things, falling blood pressure, restlessness, increased sleepiness, and a decrease in hunger and thirst. Another clearly noticeable sign is the so-called altered breathing, the so-called rattle breathing - due to restrictions in the airways due to mucus that the deceased can no longer cough up, breathing rattles or rattles, with the breath mostly being shallow and irregular .

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The stages of dying

Medicine divides the dying process of people who are not torn from life immediately, but rather die of an illness or other physical damage, into the three following phases.

Rehabilitation phase

In this phase the disease progresses and the patient is partly in need of care, but he can still live independently and largely independently. Sometimes the dying person also recovers from some acute symptoms of the disease. In the rehabilitation phase, the expected lifespan is a few months, in rare cases the phase extends over years.

Terminal phase

The terminal phase describes the phase in which the disease has already progressed and the patient has a poor prognosis for healing. The human being becomes increasingly weaker and physically deteriorates. He is extremely weak and depends on the care and support of other people. The immune system is noticeably deteriorating and some people are temporarily disoriented. Even now, many are less interested in food intake and its surroundings. If many or even all of the following symptoms are found in the sick person, the likelihood is very high that they are in the terminal phase and will die in the next six months.

  • Impaired mobility, bed restraint, and extreme weakness
  • Restlessness, confusion and disorientation
  • need significantly more care and support
  • anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and constipation
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreasing interest in the environment
  • Incontinence
Dying Process - Frequently Asked Questions

Final phase

The final phase or the actual dying process begins a few days or just a few hours before death - the physical dying process begins.

The physical process of dying

The first sign of the beginning of the dying process may be that the person speaks little and begins to sleep a lot. The body gradually slows down the metabolism and feelings of hunger and thirst cease. This slow drying out of the body is a prerequisite for the release of other pain-relieving substances in the brain. The blood circulation deteriorates and the body temperature drops.

In the dying phase, breathing becomes shallower and irregular. In the advanced stage, there is also a rattle of the lungs. The dying person can neither cough nor swallow and so mucus collects in the throat and in the bronchi. While these noises often frighten the loved ones present, it is not a great burden for the dying person.

The face of a dying person also changes. Often one can observe how this becomes sharper shortly before death. The worsening blood circulation and the sagging muscles make the eyes and cheeks sink and change the face. The skin around the mouth and nose becomes particularly pale at this stage of dying. This white "death triangle" is a typical sign of imminent death.

Decreasing blood flow to the body

The blood supply to the hands and feet is also getting worse, as the body concentrates on the most important organs inside the body - the lungs, heart and brain. As a result, the extremities become cold and gradually turn blue. Dark spots can also form due to reduced blood flow.

Gradually the brain function declines and the dying person becomes less conscious. Often dying people turn inward in the last phase of dying and perceive their environment only poorly or not at all. It can also happen that people become very restless, shake their feet or make erratic movements in the last hours before they die.

Download free death checklist

When a person comes into contact with death for the first time, this can quickly lead to excessive demands. We have summarized our experience and knowledge for you and, with this checklist, provide you with step-by-step assistance in the event of death.


In addition to the external signs of death, decisive processes also take place inside the body. Little by little, the internal organs also cease to function. In addition to the digestive organs, the kidneys and liver also stop working, toxins can no longer be excreted and lead to slow poisoning of the body. This can lead to tiredness, impaired perception or nausea.

When you die, your heartbeat also slows down and becomes irregular. When the heart finally stops completely, the cells of the body are no longer supplied with oxygen and after a few minutes the brain cells die. Man is dead.

Facilitate the dying process

If a loved one is dying, it is important for many people to accompany the dying person on the last part of his journey and to be there for him. Whether the dying process takes place in the hospital, in a hospice, or at home, there are a few things you can do for the dying person at this stage to make the final hours of their lives easier. However, you should always pay attention to the reactions and needs, as not every dying person reacts in the same way.

Do not leave the dying person alone. Many people find comfort and reassurance shortly before they die in the fact that they are surrounded by people who hold their hands, talk to them, or stroke them - even when they are no longer conscious. Here, too, pay attention to how the dying person reacts to your touch - not everyone perceives physical contact and caresses as pleasant. If the dying person is still able to speak, keep your ear close to their face to understand them better. In this way, the dying person does not have to try too hard to speak in a loud voice.

When a person is dying, the extremities cool down. To make the dying person feel more comfortable, you can warm the feet and hands with a blanket. Comfortable positioning can also contribute to relaxation. The rearrangement can now also be restricted or stopped entirely. Pay attention to whether the dying person expresses pain - this can possibly be alleviated by appropriate medication in consultation with a doctor.

Some people fear imminent death. In these cases, speaking to the dying person in a calming manner can help. Quiet music in the background can also have a calming effect.

As a rule, dying people no longer feel hungry and usually refuse to drink and eat. Therefore, do not force him to eat or drink. At this stage, food slows down the dying process. So that the mouth does not dry out completely, you can still offer it a little liquid or at least moisten the lips a little. Oral care can also prevent dehydration and associated pain.

For some dying people, it is easier to say goodbye and let go of life when they are alone. Therefore, it happens again and again that they die the moment the relatives or friends present have left the room. Therefore, give the dying person enough rest every now and then and make sure that there is no unrest caused by too many people present.

If the dying person wanted religious or pastoral accompaniment or other rituals, these should be made possible and carried out.

It's never too early to start planning your funeral!

As soon as the impending death is announced and the first signs point to the approaching end, wishes for the funeral can be recorded in consultation with the dying person.


Living will helps with decisions

If there is a living will in which the dying person has recorded his or her wishes, these should be taken into account in the onset of the dying process. Ideally, all details relating to medical assistance are regulated in it. Would the dying person still want to be admitted to the hospital for medical care, would they like artificial nutrition or ventilation, or would they just like to receive medication for the pain? If these wishes are already recorded in a living will, this makes the difficult decisions easier for the bereaved and ensures that the dying person goes his last way with dignity and according to his ideas.

When accompanying a dying person on their last journey in life, it is important that you do not overwhelm yourself. After death, it is usually very comforting to have been there for the dying person - but do not overload yourself emotionally. It is okay if you withdraw in the meantime during the dying process or seek help after death to deal with what you have experienced.