Recognising dying

Recognising dying is the first step in terminal care management. If three or more of these symptoms are present, it is likely the patient is in the terminal phase:

  • Deteriorating irreversibly on a rapid day to day basis
  • Intervening more frequently
  • Lapsing into semi-conscious or unconsciousness
  • Increasing loss of ability to swallow
  • Refusing or unable to take food, fluids or oral medicines
  • Irreversible weight loss
  • Occurrence of an acute event has occurred, requiring revision of treatment goals
  • Profound weakness
  • Changes in breathing patterns

The clinical priorities now are:

  • Talk to patient and/or family
  • Address symptoms
  • Ensure appropriate medications are available
  • Plan end-of-life care according to the setting
  • Advise other health professionals

If clinical improvement occurs, the patient should continue to be re-assessed regularly.

Consider in which setting your patient is going to die:

Helpful resources


Page updated 22 May 2017

palliAGED is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.