Understanding Death and Dying

Courtesy of DyingMatters.org | Published 08.18.2017

What happens when someone starts to die, and how end of life care is provided.

How we die is a profoundly personal journey. This section aims to help you understand what may happen as death approaches, the practical things you may need to think about when caring for a dying person, and how a death can affect family relationships.

There were 529,655 deaths registered in England and Wales in 2015, an increase of 5.6% compared with 2014. Two-thirds are aged 75 and over.

The five leading causes of death for men (2015):

  • Ischaemic heart diseases 14.3 % of all male deaths
  • Dementia and Alzheimer disease 7.9%
  • Malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung 6.4%
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases 6.2%
  • Cerebrovascular diseases 5.6%

The five leading causes of death for women (2015)

  • Dementia and Alzheimer disease 15.2% of all female deaths
  • Ischaemic heart diseases 8.8%
  • Cerebrovascular diseases 7.5%
  • Influenza and Pneumonia 6.1%
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases 6.0%

More information

End of Life Care

The goal of care for people who are dying focuses on helping them enjoy as good a quality of life as possible. This may include relieving suffering; helping people stay as well as they can; and helping them achieve goals that are important to them before they die. This care is often provided by a mix of professionals, including those skilled in palliative care. These professionals will want to ensure that everyone affected by a terminal condition (including families and carers) knows about the choices they have and what support is available to them at this difficult time.

The Dying Process

A lady with man in hospital

The links below lead to information explaining the physical changes that happen when someone nears the end of life, and provide practical support and help to relatives and friends. Many dying people say they feel excluded from important conversations about what may happen to them as they begin to die. It is hoped that this information will be of help and support to them too.


This content has been funded by Macmillan Cancer Support. It was commissioned as part of Find Me Help, Dying Matters’ new online search tool which gives access to a comprehensive database of national and local organisations providing support and advice for people coping with death, dying and bereavement.


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