When Death Is Near
Why do some people become suddenly alert for a while right before dying?

Sometimes people who are in their final days or hours of life have a brief period of physical or mental improvement. It’s not clear why this happens, but these are some possible explanations:

1. A person near death may have spent a few days in an unresponsive state. This period without much activity may help the body rest, so the person may wake up and have some energy to draw on. This is a very small amount of energy, but it’s significant compared to the person’s previous state, and may seem like a remarkable improvement. The person may interact with others, and possibly eat and drink. This period can be deceptive both to health care providers and to the family. Everyone is preparing for death, and instead the person suddenly appears better. This period doesn't last long, however, and death commonly comes within a day or two.

2. When someone has cancer in the brain, they are usually unresponsive for a few days before dying. The person likely isn’t taking in any fluids during this time, which in turn may reduce the amount swelling in the brain. The reduced swelling may make the person more alert for a few days. The person deteriorates soon after, however, because the disease is still progressing.