Post mortem care is one of the most difficult things to do as a caregiver. It is something nobody enjoys doing but it is something that must be done after a patient passes away.
First of all, it should be noted that even though the patient has passed away, they should still be treated with respect. This is especially true around family members and loved ones. This is definitely not the time to stick with strictly "business" and not show any compassion and understanding.
The family and loved ones may have customs that you are unfamiliar with. There are many different cultures with different backgrounds and religious beliefs. They may mourn differently or do things that seem strange to you.
Do not under any circumstances interrupt them during their practices. The only exceptions would be if they are disturbing or causing harm to others.
Whenever the time seems right, ask them if they need anything. Make sure they know that you are available if they do need anything and let them know that they can stay for as long as they please.
Do not rush them out of the room so you can begin the physical part of the post mortem care. What's important right now is that the family is as comfortable as possible. After you are sure that they have left and are completely done with their visit, you may begin.
For post mortem care, you will need:
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Have another caregiver assist you with this process.
If the patient has been dead for a few hours, a process called rigor mortis may have set in. This means that they will be stiff and harder to move around. When this happens, it is still possible to perform post mortem care but it is better to take care of them beforehand.
If their mouth is wide open, you should gently close it and place a rolled up towel underneath their chin. Doing this will prevent their mouth from staying open after rigor mortis sets in.
Even though the patient is dead, their body still may do things you wouldn't expect them to do. Do not be alarmed or afraid if something unexpected does happen. Just know that such things are normal and continue with your care.
One of the main things that may happen is their muscles may twitch or have slight spasms.
When you roll the patient onto their side, it is possible for them to release air from their lungs. This will sometimes make a vocal sighing sound. It is also possible for fluid to come out of their mouth.
Sometimes they will have their eyes open or one of them may open while turning them. If this happens, you can gently close their eyelids with your fingers.
I for one do not particularly enjoy performing post mortem care. It is probably my least favorite part of my job as a registered nurse (RN) (previously certified nursing assistant (CNA)) at a hospital. I guess I can be a little emotional at times but I know it has to be done.
You can't let these situations get you down. Caregiver depression is very real and should be avoided at all costs. If doing this kind of work is effecting you personally, seek help.
Question: Can a certified nursing assistant (CNA) perform post mortem care?
Answer: Yes. This is currently within a CNA's scope of practice in all states. However, they should not do things such as remove tubes, lines, and dressings.
Q: Can a CNA remove an IV during post mortem care?
A: No. Removing invasive lines is out of a CNA's scope of practice. This should be done by a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN).
Q: For post mortem care, are you supposed to close the eyes and mouth?
A: Yes. It is best to do this before rigor mortis sets in. If their mouth will not stay closed, gently close it and place a rolled up towel underneath their chin. For the eyes, gently slide your fingers down over their eyes. Their eyelids should easily close.