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Last Updated on September 6, 2021 by Frank Davis
Hospice care is aimed at providing patients with the maximum level of comfort, as well as a better quality of life by controlling the pain and discomfort that comes with a terminal illness. Hospice does not shorten or lengthen a patients life span, but simply focuses on addressing the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Among the many myths circulating about hospice care is that hospice stops a patient from getting food and water, which is not true. In this article, we will discuss the issues surrounding who makes such decisions.
Does Food And Water Stop When In Hospice Care?
One of the most important things to observe is the patient’s digestive system since it is the first organ that begins to suffer when they are transitioning. Approximately one to three months prior to passing the patient will eat less and finally cease to eat just days before death. In most hospices, when a patient begins to eat less, it is a first sign that the transition phase is really getting underway. It is typically recommended that you call your hospice provider if you notice that your loved one’s appetite has changed.
Patients undergoing hospice care begin to experience a gradual slowdown in their metabolism as their illnesses progress and the days pass, leading to a reduction in the amount of energy they require and consequently a reduction in their daily caloric intake. When a patient talks about not being hungry, really listen to what he says, without judgment, and do not make assumptions about his or her reasoning. This will prevent unwanted guilt and shame being imposed upon a patient who already has a lot on his or her plate.
In a situation when the appetite has decreased, family members may become distressed. It is not uncommon for them to force food or fluid upon their loved ones, since eating is seen as a sign of good health. However, hospice nutrition guidelines discourage family members from taking such measures. In fact, forcing them to eat or drink will actually result in a variety of unwanted and uncomfortable side effects, including:
- shortness of breath
- digestive problems
How can we determine how much food a patient can consume, when the metabolism slows down? It’s simple, we observe the patient’s natural signs of hunger. End of life nutrition should be offered in a manner that listens to the patient. Offer them food and water only when they request it. These behaviors will be an indication that they are hungry or thirsty. They know their bodies and know when food and water are needed.
Do hospices prevent patients from eating and drinking? No. It is the patient who determines whether eating and drinking should be stopped. Many family members may visit and note that the patient is eating less, and assume that hospice is the cause of this change. The truth is that it is the patient who makes that decision. So, when a hospice agency denies you the right to provide food or fluids to the patient, they are simply ensuring there are no further complications added to the list.
In hospice, patients are at the end of a disease process. The disease has progressed so far that doctors estimate a life expectancy of six months or less. Understanding that the digestive system is the first organ to fail, you will comprehend that eating less is to be expected. When transitioning, eating less and sleeping more are one of the early symptoms you may have.
One hospice misconception is that hospice care starves or dehydrates their patients, which is not true. As time progresses, the patient will gradually eat less and ultimately stop eating. Nurses and staff listen to their patients’ natural signals of hunger and provide food or water when they need it. Hospice agencies do not stop their patients from eating or drinking during hospice care. Instead they are simply active in making sure the patients are not overeating or overdrinking, which can cause further suffering during the dying process.
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