Six Months To Live? A Doctor's Prediction

Dear Barbara, our doctor says my husband will most likely die before six months. He has diabetes, dementia, is on dialysis which doesn’t help him, has not since he started last February. Doctor says he also has disease of the arteries and heart disease. He has been in and out of the hospital many times. He is now home and sleeps almost all day. He still has a good appetite. So my question is will he die within the six months our doctor gives him?

In response to your question: no one can be so specific as to put a number on how long someone has to live. There are many dynamics that influence when death from disease occurs that have nothing to do with the disease or the body processes. Factors affecting the time of death other than medical factors are: we have unconscious and limited control over the time that we die. Our personality tends to affect when we die. How we have approached living is often reflected in our dying. We die the way we’ve lived. A-type personalities tend to die quicker than more relaxed, sedate personalities.

So many factors affect the length of our labor to leave this world that it is imprudent to put a specific time frame on approaching death. The closest we can credibly come to predicting when death is going to arrive is to guesstimate the time in months or weeks with no numbers attached. When you are dealing with days or hours, even without putting a number on them, we cannot generally be accurate in predicting when death will happen.

Based on what you have told me of your husband diseases and his body's response to them and the treatments he is receiving I will be surprised if he is here next year at this time. A lot depends on the treatments, dialysis and medications, that he is receiving. If the dialysis is not working you can stop it. You can decrease the medications he is on. Talk with your husband's doctors about comfort care instead of aggressive care. There comes a point where we can in good conscious say "enough is enough", "keep him comfortable" and call in hospice for the support it will give you.

I don't mean to sound harsh but yes, your husband is dying and it sounds like we are looking at months. How many no one can say. Maybe it is time to stop trying to "fix" him and have your goal be to keep him comfortable as his body releases itself from this earth.

Something More... about Six Months To Live?

Understanding the signs of approaching death and what to expect when death draws closer is explained clearly and simply in GONE FROM MY SIGHT. Signs of the dying process from months to weeks to days to hours to minutes is covered in an easy to comprehend way. Caring for someone who is dying is different than caring for someone who will get better. GONE FROM MY SIGHT is a most helpful tool for families and friends of the dying. It is part of the END OF LIFE GUIDELINE SERIES bundle.

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Hi Raquel, in response to not being able to really comprehend that your mother was going to die, right up to the day before she died: sometimes it is just to hard to accept or comprehend that someone close to us is going to die. We put a protective shield around ourselves because not to, just hurts too much. Also, we deal with the challenge of end of life basically in the same way we deal with all our major challenges. Look and see how you approach difficult situations. Do you close your eyes and prefer not to see them? Raquel, you might write your mother a letter. Put in the letter everything you wish you had said and done while your mother was ill and dying. No one needs to see or even know about the letter. Just write from your heart. When you are finished , burn the letter and release the ashes to the wind. As you let the ashes go let your feelings of "I wish I had done it differently” go also. Know that your mom will know and bless you. I don’t know your relationship with your siblings but you might talk with them about what you are feeling and listen to their thoughts. Blessings! Barbara

Raquel Mendoza

Dear Barbara – when my 83 yr old mother was very ill during the first week of February, 2012, my father, siblings and I met at the hospital where my mother was admitted to listen to her doctor. He told us she was approaching the end of life stage and we should make arrangements for palliative care, then hospice. Though I heard his words, I did not accept them. Even up until the day before her death, when all she did was sleep, I still did not believe she would go. Is this normal? I never spoke to my 4 siblings about how they felt and have often wondered if they thought the same as I did. Now, I think back and would have changed so many things. I would have taken more time from my job to spend with my mom. I want so much to turn back time and do things differently, but that is impossible. I purchased your guide (containing your booklets) on the death process, and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. I’ve only read “Gone From My Sight” as this was given to my father by the hospice service. It was in Spanish and it was very helpful to my heartbroken father. He still reads this booklet from time to time and finds comfort in it. Thank you for comforting information. It is very appreciated.


Hi Merilynn, you make a very good point about the time frame for a hospice referral. Unfortunately, I’m not sure most physicians are thinking hospice when they make their end of life predictions (I wish they were). Yes, hospice regulations require a limited prognosis of 6 months or less. It requires that 2 physicians sign their names to that time frame BUT in our teaching to the patient and family our job as end of life professionals is to make it clear that those numbers are a guesstimate, that no one can put a number on how long someone has to live.
Blessings! Barbara

Gail Giacomini

I agree with those who said to only do that which is helpful to living each day the best that can be. Also educate yourself as to the progression of dying. This will be of more help to you than trying to pinpoint the time of death, even if you are trying to figure out how to husband your strength, resources, etc.
Remember the journey isn’t all smoothly downhill- there are plateaus and even slight rises on the way!

Merilynne Rush

Dear Barbara,
Thank you so much for your thoughtful blog post. So many people ask this question. It’s understandable that we all want to know, and you made some really good points. I really hopes it helps this person. Do you think that the doctor may have said that because then this dying person would be eligible for hospice care? Could you talk more about why it’s necessary to make these predictions for hospice purposes, even though we can’t really know for sure?
Thank you for all you do.

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