Life-limiting illnesses can bring physical and emotional pain to patients and their loved ones. It’s difficult to watch your loved one deal with discomfort, limited mobility and a lack of energy. Along with physical symptoms, your loved one may show signs of emotional distress as they near the end of their life. These typically present as several end of life stages such as withdrawing from family and friends, increased irritation, and more.
Fear, anxiety and anger are all commonly seen characteristics of patients with terminal illnesses. As your loved one’s health declines, you may notice them develop bitterness or anger. This is called terminal agitation. Along with this, terminal delirium and terminal restlessness may also present themselves. These emotions can be disheartening as you want to enjoy your last few months, weeks or days with them. While a change in mood can make your loved one challenging to be around, understand that these emotions are natural at the end of life and that they aren’t trying to hurt you or any of their other friends and family.
You may be wondering what causes these mood changes and if there is anything you can do to remedy the situation. Keep reading to learn more about end-of-life symptoms, end of life personality changes and anger before death.
What Causes Terminal Agitation?
There are several reasons your loved one may display anger or despair in their final days. Here are a few likely causes of distress in terminally ill patients:
- Pain: If your loved one isn’t receiving palliative care for their illness, their pain can significantly affect their mood. Chronic pain can cause your loved one to become angry with their body as they continue to live in discomfort. As a result of this anger, they may lash out at healthcare professionals or caregivers tasked with helping them.
- Emotions surrounding death: Many who are close to death may feel anger or resentment about their situation. These feelings can be more intense for individuals who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses at a young age. It’s natural for them to feel robbed of time and the dreams most of us take for granted.
- Confusion: If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, you are probably aware of how aggressive behaviors can arise. When your loved one is confused, they may become angry out of frustration, fear or overstimulation. However, confusion isn’t limited to dementia. Age, medication or other chronic illnesses can cause confusion as well.
- Delirium: Once your loved one is within days or hours of passing, they may begin to show signs of terminal restlessness or anger. Terminal delirium can also occur being caused by anything from pain to medication side effects, or even dehydration and anxiety.
What Can I Do to Help My Loved One?
If your loved one is angry or frustrated often, there may not be a lot you can do directly to change their state. However, you can do a few things to ease the situation to make the most of the time your loved one has left.
- Don’t take their anger personally. Removing your emotions is easier said than done. If you’ve looked up to your loved one for a long time, it’s easy to be hurt by things they say due to their illness. Remember, they aren’t angry at you. They are angry at their pain and helplessness in the situation. Find someone you can discuss these interactions with. Give yourself a chance to decompress from your loved one’s negative emotions.
- Speak calmly. Escalating by raising your voice will make the situation worse. Try to maintain composure and speak to them as you usually would.
- Create a calm environment. When your loved one is already dealing with a distressing disease and can’t get rest due to their environment, they are likely to become angrier. Keep the lights low, play quiet music if they want, and limit the amount of activity in their space. For individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, this is especially important.
How Can Hospice Care Help?
If your loved one is dealing with a life-limiting illness, hospice and palliative care can help alleviate the symptoms that are causing underlying distress. While it may not completely wipe away your loved one’s anger before death, it can help them manage the pain and emotions brought on by their illness.