When dying - the hearing is the last thing to go?

I picked a copy of the latest Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader (yes, I know the good “doctor” has published erroneous info in the past, but it’s still an interesting series).

Along the bottom of each page, is a throwaway fact or piece of trivia. In the newest one (vol. 16, pg 299), is this line:

“When a person is dying, hearing is the last sense to go. Sight is the first”

Is this true?

Like all these factoids about death it’s impossible to know for sure since by definition none of the subjects are able to tell anyone what the last thing they sensed was. There’s not going ot be a definitive answer.

And of course it’s going to depend on what the person is dying of. A person dying from a severe infection in both ears is probably going to suffer hearing loss first for example.

However sight does require an inordinate amount of energy to keep running. As a result people suffering from conditions that reduce energy availability will often experience vision problems. It’s not beyond belief that vision would be the first sense to go for many dying people.

How anyone could possibly judge whether hearing, touch or smell went last is beyond me. There’s just no possible experiment, physiological fact or even anecdotal evidence that could justify that conclusion.

“Can you see this”
“Are you dead yet?”
“Can you hear me”
“Dead yet?”
“Can you feel that?”
“Dead Yet?”

That’s the sort of experiment you have to do. And I certainly don’t want to have my final hours subjected to such an experiment.


I think that it may have to do with blood loss or oxygen deprivation. In which case eyesight (first color, then B&W) is the first to go.

Ouch! Does this happen a lot?

It’s usually limited to Duran Duran concerts.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind going out like this. I have no justification for this, but I’ve always just figured that if you can keep the person engaged it might be possible to extend their life.

Also, I experiment a lot with lucid dreaming. When I’m coming out of a dream sight is the first to go, followed by hearing, with touch being the last to go. Not sure how much this would apply to death, but its an interesting observation.

If it’s anything like being put under general anesthesia, I seem to recall that my hearing was the last thing I remember, all echo-y like…

The moral being, I suppose, that you should watch what you say till they’ve wheeled the corpse away.

“Finally! I thought he’d never go!”
“I heard that.”

When my step-father went into a coma many years ago, we were encouraged to speak to him by the medical staff. They said it was quite possible he could hear us but not respond.
This seemed to be a widely held opinion because I’m sure we’ve all heard about pop stars etc and music being used to try and bring someone out of a coma. My step-father never recovered conciousness so we never knew if it worked or not. I don’t know how close to dying being in a coma is medically, at least in this case it was very close.

As higher brain function shuts down, it’s believed that the sense of smell is the last thing to go. This is because this sense is hardwired deepest into the brain, and probably came first evolutionarily, even before the sense of touch, and long before sight or hearing.

Of course this means that the sense of smell is still functioning while the dying individual has lost higher cognitive function, along with the ability to communicate.

I know this is a total hijack, but I’ve always sort of had the impression that this was true (that hearing was the last to go) and was trying to figure out where it came from, and then I realized that I get it from Bugs Bunny. “Everything… going… dark… is that you, Mother?”

So it does at least seem to be a popular (mis?)conception.