As AIDS Progresses

As your loved one’s disease progresses into its latter stages, some further complications may occur.

People with AIDS seem to get sick, then get better, then get sick again, and then better, and so on. Sometimes they just get sicker and sicker. You can’t always tell if they’re going to live through a particular illness or not. These times are difficult on everyone involved, but knowing what to expect may help you deal with these troublesome periods. Here are some of the things to expect as AIDS enters its final stages, and some suggestion on how to cope.

Like other people nearing death, a person in the final stages of AIDS:

  • Sleeps more and more and is hard to wake up. Do try to talk to your loved one and do things during those times when he or she seems alert.
  • Begins to wet his or her pants or lose bowel control. Do clean your loved one, using gloves, and use powder or lotion to prevent rashes. A catheter for passing urine may become necessary.
  • Has skin that feels cool to the touch. Skin may also turn darker on the side of the body that touches the bed as circulation slows down. Do keep your loved one covered with warm blankets; but Don’t use electric blankets because they can burn a person with poor circulation.
  • May have trouble seeing or hearing. Don’t talk to other people as if your loved one with AIDS can’t hear you, instead always talk to a person with AIDS and anyone else in the room as if he or she can hear you.
  • May seem restless, pulling at the sheets on the bed or acting as if he or she sees things that you don’t. Do stay calm, speak slowly, and reassure your loved one. Do comfort him or her with gentle reminders about who and where you are.
  • May stop eating and drinking. Do wipe his or her mouth often with a wet cloth. Do keep your loved one’s lips wet with lip moisturizer.
  • May almost stop urinating. If there is a catheter, it may need to be rinsed or flushed to keep it from getting blocked. A nurse can show you how to do this.
  • Has noisy breathing because he or she cannot cough up fluids that collect in the back of the throat. Do talk to your loved one’s doctor; the doctor may suggest raising the head of the bed or piling up extra pillows. Turning your loved one on his or her side may also help. If he or she can swallow, feed your loved one some ice chips. If not, a cool, wet washcloth on the lips can keep his or her mouth and lips moist and may satisfy thirst. If your loved one begins to have irregular breathing—or seems to stop breathing for a period of time—call the doctor immediately.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Caring for Someone with AIDS at Home: A Guide, ACTIS Publication No. D817, United States Department of Health and Human Services, AIDS Clinical Trial Information Service.

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