Terminal restlessness is a medical term for the restlessness and agitation that often begins one to three weeks before death from disease.
The restlessness shows itself by random body movements, hands picking the air or clothing, by just not being settled and quiet.
This restlessness can be lack of oxygen to the brain but more likely it is just fear showing itself. The body is expressing what it is feeling because the person is beyond expressing with words. There are few if any rational conversations now.
We are all going to be afraid to some degree as we approach death. This is normal and natural. Also we know when we are dying. It is no secret. We live inside of our bodies--we know. In the months before death from disease we don’t believe we can’t be fixed but there comes a point where we indeed know the time is near (one to three weeks before we actually die from disease). Realizing in the core of our being that we are going to die we become frightened and that fear shows itself in agitation. Many think “if I lay down and close my eyes I may die” so they won’t lay still, and move about.
Most of the time this restlessness, this agitation, is not destructive. It is not severe. If the movements become thrashing about or hurtful and causing a danger to the person and/or others then a medication to calm is needed. Most people, however, do not need medications for sedation or calming.
Again this activity is normal and natural. It is a part of the dying process from disease or old age. Nothing bad or unusual is happening. The restlessness is just a part of the way we die.
In my booklet, Gone From My Sight, The Dying Experience, terminal restlessness is covered in the timeline of the dying process. People die in stages of months, weeks, day and hours. Having this knowledge will help address the fear of death and dying that most of us bring to the bedside of a person approaching death.