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End-of-Life Care : Food and Fluid Issues

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
February 24, 2012

Question: What food and fluid issues should I keep in mind while caring for my aged uncle at end-of-life?

Answer: I am not a nurse, doctor or nutritionist so if you need specific medical advice, you should contact your healthcare professional. But if you are talking about general food and fluid at the end of life, then the goal is to listen to your uncle. If he is hungry, feed him.  If he is thirsty, get him something to drink. The main thing is to listen to the patient. This is about making him as comfortable and happy as you can. 

It is normal for people to only want to eat or drink a little near the end of life. I remember one of my hospice patients asking for some ice cream. I went and served up a dish for him and as I put the spoon to his mouth, he took just a little off the spoon and said, “Perfect.” Don’t expect people to eat a lot at the end of life. They don’t need a lot of calories as their bodies are shutting down. 

At the very end, people will not want to eat or drink anything usually. Do not force feed the person as the person might choke. The ability to swallow can be extremely limited in the final days. If the person is still in the early days of dying, he or she will probably want to eat like usual.  I knew my aunt wasn’t dying, even though she was very sick, because she ate her full meals.  It wasn’t until the last few weeks when she finally stopped being hungry.  Listen to your uncle and if you need more medical advice, ask the hospice nurse.

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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