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5 Signs Of The Elderly Giving Up On Life

5 Signs Of The Elderly Giving Up On Life

If you are afraid an elderly person you love might be giving up on life, here are 5 important signs to watch for: withdrawal, apathy, increased sleep, decreasing vital signs, and rapid progression to the end. Keep reading to learn more about each stage.
Signs Of The Elderly Giving Up On Life
Signs Of The Elderly Giving Up On Life
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Often, caregivers and family members of seniors begin to notice signs indicating that the elderly have given up on life. This isn’t at all unusual and in fact, it’s quite common in many cultures. Death, just like the beginning of life, is a process wherein the body begins to cease functioning.

Not everyone will go through the same steps as they are giving up on life, however, typically, there are five basic signs that they are beginning to give up.

These signs can be subtle or blatantly obvious.

They can appear altogether, or they may start one at a time. For many, they simply feel that they’ve lived their life and served their purpose and there is no longer any reason for them to continue on. Their life has no more purpose.

Here are the basic 5 signs that the elderly are giving up on life.

1. Withdrawal

People, by nature, are social creatures. Someone who has given up will begin to withdraw socially. They may stop meeting others for lunch or stop enjoying the activities that they used to enjoy doing with others. They may show a lack of appetite when eating and begin to simply tell you they’re not hungry or even play with their food.

Occasionally, they will go so far as to hide their food and pretend that they’ve eaten. This is also the stage where some people begin to give away special belongings to friends and family.

How To Help:

Encourage the person to stay connected to friends and family for short periods of time if they are up to it. Prepare their favorite foods as long as they are still able to eat and encourage their appetite little by little so that they can keep up their strength. If they are giving away special belongings consider asking them to just list what goes to whom and avoid removing the items from their home if at all possible.

2. Apathy

Those who have given up on life may become apathetic. They may begin to show less and less interested in helping themselves. They may stop eating, they may stop all forms of self-care including bathing and proper toileting.

It’s not at all unusual for caregivers to have to convince a person in the stage to go to the bathroom and take a shower or bathe. The simplest tasks may seem monumental at this stage and the person may well be stubborn about doing any of their normal routine tasks.

How To Help:

Try to stick to a routine even if it has to be streamlined. Help the person to and from the bathroom as needed and offer to help them shower. Helping them to stick to their normal routine will be challenging at this time and they may simply prefer to be left alone. Respect their wishes within reason and encourage them to do what they can with assistance.

senior woman looking worried as her husband is lying in a hospital bedPin
Most caregivers feel helpless when they know someone they love is starting to slip away.

3. Sleeping More

At this stage, many will begin to sleep more and more. They will simply stay in bed as long as you’ll allow them to, or they will get up and move to the couch or recliner and continue sleeping. They have no desire to get dressed or to participate in any of the activities that they used to enjoy and they may begin to be grumpy and short when they do talk to friends, family, and caregivers.

How To Help:

This is a stage where their body is beginning to wind down and it’s normal for a person to sleep more in the last few months of life. Allow them to sleep but encourage them to move positions and get up and around some to help avoid bedsores.

Some will want someone to sit with them while they sleep and others will prefer to be left alone. Keep a watchful eye on them but don’t overwhelm them with attention if it’s not wanted.

4. Vital Signs

As the person begins to get closer to death, there is a marked decrease in their vital signs. The blood pressure will begin to drop, the person will begin to cool to the touch and it’s not at all unusual for them to pass urine or excrement and not even care.

Many a family member or caregiver has found that the person will simply sit or lie in their own urine or excrement and not care at all if they smell or are cleaned up. They may also labor to breathe. At this stage, it may only be a few hours to a few days before the person passes on.

How To Help:

Most people don’t realize that their vital signs are changing and there is really nothing that family or caregivers can do to help them at this stage. Reassurance and encouragement, a kind word, or even holding their hand and being encouraging can all go far in easing their fears at this stage.

5. The End Is Near

As the end nears many will feel some pain, anxiety, and even begin to hallucinate. Ask the doctors or hospice personnel what can be done to help at this stage. Some will be inpatient at this point on an IV for pain medication or other medications, others will prefer to stay at home and there are things that can be done to ease this time for them as well.

How To Help:

Avoid arguing with them regarding any hallucinations the elderly person is having as this will only be more upsetting to them. Instead, focus on discussing what they are seeing with them and asking them pertinent questions. Most family and friends will simply “play along” at this stage and ask them to explain what they are seeing and help the person to understand.

It is also important that you have had a conversation with the elderly person about their death and what their final wishes are. This makes sure their wishes are known and could save a lot of stress when the time does come.

Watching a senior loved give up on life is a life changing experience for anyone. Friends, family, and caregivers will all be impacted by the loss of an elderly friend, family member, or client. Be supportive of one another and of the person who has given up. Take time to say goodbye in your own way and don’t rush the process.


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Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

With over 20 years of experience and certifications as a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® and Senior Home Safety Specialist (SHSS)®, Scott Grant provides reliable recommendations to help seniors maintain independence through informed product and service choices for safe, comfortable living.

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1 thought on “5 Signs Of The Elderly Giving Up On Life”

  1. jenny

    I have a relative who lives alone but has a good decade ahead of them if I can get them out of their funk. With us traveling so much, I’m thinking of getting a visiting assistant, but they may not agree. How do I impress upon them the importance without being able to reach out tho their physician (who also seems apathetic to their medical problems – not enough sleep, etc.).

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