Saturday, September 10, 2016

Palliative Care and the Science of What It Feels Like to Die - The Atlantic

"Until about 100 years ago, almost all dying happened quickly. But modern medicine has radically changed how long the end of life can be stretched. Now, Americans who have access to medical care often die gradually, of lingering diseases like most terminal cancers or complications from diabetes or dementia, rather than quickly from, say, a farm accident or the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent figures, Americans are most likely to die of heart disease, cancer, or chronic pulmonary lung disease.

For those who do die gradually, there’s often a final, rapid slide that happens in roughly the last few days of life—a phase known as “active dying.” During this time, Hallenbeck writes in Palliative Care Perspectives, his guide to palliative care for physicians, people tend to lose their senses and desires in a certain order. “First hunger and then thirst are lost. Speech is lost next, followed by vision. The last senses to go are usually hearing and touch.”



Whether dying is physically painful, or how painful it is, appears to vary. “There are some kinds of conditions where pain is inevitable,” Campbell says. “There are some patients that just get really, really old and just fade away, and there’s no distress.” Having a disease associated with pain doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily endure a difficult death, either. Most people dying of cancer need pain medication to keep them comfortable, Campbell notes—and the medicine usually works. “If they’re getting a good, comprehensive pain regimen, they can die peacefully,” she says."

Palliative Care and the Science of What It Feels Like to Die - The Atlantic

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