Palliative eating vs. the need to feed is a tricky issue. How St. Croix Hospice addresses the subject, with insights on end-of-life nutrition for the caregiver.
Birthday celebrations with cake and ice cream, Thanksgiving dinners with all the trimmings: all indications that food is a part of our culture, our way of spending time with friends and family. Making chicken noodle soup for those with the flu, ice cream after a breakup, bringing dinner to a family in need can also be used as a tool for showing care and sympathy.
But what happens when food can no longer be given to those we love? When their appetite for the things they once enjoyed have diminished and they no longer have a desire to eat? When providing food and drink is the last remaining basic task a family member can do for their dying loved ones?
Our human nature and current culture depicts food as something that brings people together, that food can make everything better, and that by not eating or drinking we see our loved ones fading from us and we are left helpless, confused, and fighting our instinctive need to feed.
Situations like these can be very common when caring for loved ones with underlying terminal illnesses. Emotions can run high as changes in food/fluid intake occur.
At St. Croix Hospice, our staff work with those caring for loved ones and explain the physical changes occurring in the body as well as discuss alternative ways a caregiver can show support, compassion, and love.
To be sure, hunger and thirst are rare occurrences near the end of life. The digestive system is slowing down and nutrients are not utilized as they would be in a body that properly metabolizes food.
Aggressive tube feedings or forcing loved ones to eat when they don’t want to can cause abdominal pain, GI distress and discomfort, as well as an unpleasant environment.
Caregivers are encouraged to follow their loved one’s lead in regard to any food or beverage intake. Those that are non-verbal may show their lack of appetite in alternative ways by not opening their mouth, spitting food out, turning their head away, or coughing after swallowing. …
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