In the last few days

It can be hard to predict what will happen in your last few days of life. Everyone’s experience will be different. You will probably feel weak, sleep a lot and possibly be a bit confused. You may feel detached from people around you and your surroundings.

You will probably need a lot of physical care. Your nurse can show your carers how to wash and bathe you, as well as how to move you safely. Moisturiser and lip balm can stop your skin and lips from becoming too dry. Your carers can help with this, and with moistening your mouth if it becomes dry as well.

There are things your carers, doctor and nurses can do to help keep you comfortable, including managing any pain you have. You may want to spend time with the people close to you, talking or sitting quietly, or you may want some time alone.

In the last few days of life

Each person’s experience of the last few days of life will be different and it can be difficult to predict exactly what will happen or how quickly the changes will occur.

Usually, you’ll gradually become very weak and have very little energy. You may:

  • find it difficult to move around and need help getting from your bed to a chair
  • need to spend most or all of the day in bed
  • lose interest in eating and have no appetite because your body can no longer digest food and doesn’t need it
  • sleep a lot and feel drowsy when you’re awake
  • feel disorientated and unsure whether you’re dreaming
  • dream about people who aren’t there or that you knew in the past - your mind may bring up old memories
  • lose interest in your surroundings and even your close family.

We also have information written for relatives and friends caring for you at the end of life, but you may find it helpful to read it together.

Physical care in the last few days of life

During your last few days, the people looking after you will need to give you a lot of physical care. It may be strange for you to have to accept so much help but it can also be a time when you become very close emotionally. If your carers need help to wash and bathe you, your district or specialist nurse can arrange this. They can also show your carers how to lift and move you safely.

As your mouth often becomes dry, it will need to be moistened regularly. Your district nurse can get mouth-care sticks (like big cotton buds) and show your carers how to use them. They can also put lip balm on to your lips to stop them getting dry and cracked.

To prevent your skin from getting sore, it’s important that your carers moisturise it and help you change position regularly. Your nurses can advise your carers on how to make sure you’re in a comfortable position when you’re unable to move yourself. You can use various pressure care aids to help keep you comfortable. These can include cushions for chairs, mattresses for beds and special beds with pressure-relieving mattresses. Your district nurse can assess what you need and arrange these for you.

There may be a lot of time when you don’t need to have anything done and you can just lie quietly with your relatives and friends sitting with you. This can be a very intimate and special time. You can let them know whether you’d like to talk, have a quiet time or listen to music that you like. You can also let them know if you need some time on your own.


If you r symptoms change, your medicines may also need to change. Some medicines may no longer be needed and may be stopped. If you develop new symptoms, new medicines can be started.

If you have problems swallowing, it’s possible to give your medicines either by injection, by patches stuck on to the skin or by using a syringe driver.

Just-in-case medicines

You may hear your doctor, district nurse or palliative care nurse talk about leaving a small case or box of medicines in your home ‘just in case’ you need them. This is because it can sometimes be hard for them to access drugs quickly at night or at weekends. This might be a problem if you get more pain or start to feel or be sick. If you have just-in-case medicines in your home, it means that a nurse or doctor can give them to you without delay if you need them.

Just-in-case medicines usually include injections to help with pain, sickness, restlessness and secretions on your chest.

Working together to create information for you

We worked with Marie Curie Cancer Care to write our End of life information.

Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.

You could help us too when you join our Cancer Voices Network.

Back to Understanding what will happen

In the last few weeks

During the last few weeks of life, you may experience a number of emotional and physical changes and symptoms.