NewsUnderstanding the final stages of life: A medical perspective

Understanding the final stages of life: A medical perspective

There are four stages of death.
There are four stages of death.
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7:16 AM EDT, March 29, 2024

Zachary Palace, a geriatrician from New York, has witnessed the deaths of numerous patients in his field of expertise. His vast medical knowledge, combined with these experiences, provides a detailed overview of the dying process and the stages that the human body experiences.

Blood pressure decreases

The dying process varies based on the individual's physical condition at the time—whether death is due to illness or chronic health issues influences how the body responds. However, in all cases, there is a gradual decline in bodily functions.

An initial sign is a decrease in blood pressure, which, as Dr. Palace explains, leads to skin paleness. He further notes that this may cause fingers to turn cold or blue, and the pulse weakens.

Another significant change is in breathing, which slowly becomes more shallow. For those already weakened by disease, breathing may become irregular, potentially accelerating the dying process.

Consciousness fades, yet the brain remains alert

The subsequent stage involves losing consciousness, although scientists debate whether this equates to a total loss of awareness.

Some may experience restlessness or disorientation before gradually slipping out of consciousness. Those dying may not be conscious of their lips and throat, leading to heavy, albeit not distressing, breathing, explains Dr. Kathryn Mannix, a palliative care physician, in "Science Focus" magazine.

The brain's activity in the moments before death is fascinating. Research indicates that the brain can still process and respond to auditory stimuli. Dr. Palace mentions studies showing that the dying brain can react to sounds even when the person is completely unaware until the final hours of life.

He highlights that the brain of a dying person, even in an unconscious state, can still perceive sounds in the environment. Ongoing research aims to understand the importance of music and other sounds for those nearing death.

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