Over 5 million adults across the United States experience heart failure, making this one of the most common reasons why seniors are subject to hospital admissions. Medical innovations have come a long way in helping seniors to live longer and enjoy greater health after a diagnosis of heart failure, but there still is no cure for this condition. It occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to sustain the body, and with time, all patients diagnosed with this condition will reach the final stage of the disease.

In end stage congestive heart failure, palliative care or hospice is often called in to provide comfort and support to seniors. As they continue to live each day to the fullest, many question what they should expect. Understanding the symptoms of end stage heart failure can help seniors to feel better prepared for their path ahead.

The Symptoms of End Stage Heart Failure


Dyspnea is the technical term for shortness of breath. It can occur both when a patient is resting and when they’re active. This feeling of not being able to take a deep breath can be quite frightening, but patients in palliative or hospice care can learn how to better manage dyspnea at home and feel more confident when episodes occur.

Chronic Cough

Similar to dyspnea, a chronic cough can make a senior feel like they are having a hard time catching a good breath of air. It occurs because fluid builds up in the lungs when the heart can’t keep up with the oxygen supply needs of the lungs. White or pink mucus is common. However, green mucus is often a sign of infection and should be evaluated.


Extra fluid build up in the body can cause extremities to swell. This is known as edema. It can feel very uncomfortable, particularly when feet, ankles, hands and fingers are often swollen. Wearing compression stockings, elevating your feet and drinking plenty of water can all help with this condition.

Loss of Appetite

The lack of blood flow to the digestive system can make it feel uncomfortable for seniors with congestive heart failure to eat. They might experience nausea or even vomiting or may claim that they feel full even if they haven’t eaten for hours. While watching your loved one not want to eat can be distressing, force feeding can cause chocking or aspiration. Both are dangerous and distressing for the patient to experience. Always consult with your hospice or palliative care team if you have concerns about your loved one’s food intake.

High Heart Rate

This is a response to the lack of oxygen being delivered by the heart to the body. Most seniors will experience it as a racing feeling. A high heart rate is important to monitor, and at times, some medications can be adjusted to help address it and keep the senior comfortable.


In the latest stages of congestive heart failure, the sodium levels in the blood can vary greatly. For many seniors, this causes confusion. Feelings of disorientation and delirium are common. In some cases, hallucinations and extreme forgetfulness are also part of this process.

When a doctor determines that a patient has six months or less to live if heart failure follows its usual path of progression, hospice care is often a beneficial choice. For those in the earlier stages of this disease, palliative care can provide comfort and pain management support that accompanies any curative treatments. In either case, the added support of these services enhances quality of life and can help patients to better cope with the progression of their disease. If you’re in need of these services, Salus Hospice Orange County is here to help. Contact us, or discuss hospice and palliative care with your physician to learn more.