The pros and cons of feeding tubes in the elderly is a topic that comes up so often, I thought it was important that I take time to give my nurses perspective.
This is a topic that I feel should be discussed early in the aging process, while a person has an opportunity to make decisions based on their own thoughts and wishes. Having an Advanced Directive in place, makes sure a persons wishes are honored at end of life. It also takes a lot of stress off a other family members when the time comes and decisions need to be made.
Having an Advanced Directive in place, does not hasten your death, allow you to make important decisions on your life, and gives your physician information on the care and treatment you would like. There is not “right” or “wrong” way to approach this subject. There is only what is best for you.
With modern technology, developments have been made to extend life through artificial means. These modern advances , to the terminally ill, can prolong the death and dying process. Research shows that is actually causes prolonged pain and suffering.
I am providing this information so that, for those that have not planned in advance for making decisions about end of life issues.
I would first like to address the purpose of a feeding tube. There are times when an indiviudal becomes very old or very ill and starts to have problems with eating or difficulty with swallowing. Tube feedings provide a source of food , water and even medications in liquid form, for those who can no longer take in food or liquids by mouth.
Tube feedings can be very helpful to individuals that need nutritional support after surgery or sudden illness. For the young and healthy patient, with swallowing disorders or poor appetites, a tube feeding can serve as a long term nutritional support.
Tube feedings, while offering nutritional support, does not provide the pleasures of taste or the social interaction that usually accompanies a meal.
Many families feel that when a senior member of the family begins to have swallowing and eating issues, that as a person declines, they will “starve to death”. It is important for family members to understand that if a person has a terminal illness, a feeding tube will not help them get well. As the body starts to physically decline, it shuts systems down and a person does not feel hungry or thirsty. Inserting a feeding tube can actually do more harm than good. It can interfere with a peaceful and natural death.
More on Pros and Cons of Feeding Tubes in the Elderly,,,
Let me explain.
Even in the most perfect situation, have a feeding tube has risks. To place a feeding tube in a person, the doctor must put a tube in your stomach, through your abdomen. This tube is anchored in, but for some confused or agitated patients, they must have their hands tied down to be sedated to keep the tube in place.
Because the feeding is a mechanical process, the stomach does not register if it is full. This means that the liquid nutrition can go into the lungs causing aspiration pneumonia, or cause swelling (edema) in the body.
A person with a terminal illness will not be able to eat regular food again without great risk to their health. Many struggle with wanting to have a drink or eat their favorite food.
I wrote this article to help give you and your family members general information on feeding tubes as a potential treatment at the end of life, outlining the pros and cons, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not this should be part of your end of life treatment.
Here are 2 PDf’s on tube feedings from a doctors perspective :
American Geriatrics Positions on feeding tubes for advanced dementia.
Ethical Issues with long term feeding tubes.
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