Feeding, Hydration, and Hospice Care
At Center for Hospice Care, we believe that those who may need hospice care and their loved ones should always feel free to ask questions about the services we provide and about hospice care more generally. Many of the questions we receive relate to eating and drinking, and how the hospice philosophy considers things like feeding tubes and hydration. Here are some of the most common questions and brief answers- if you’d like to discuss any of these issues in more detail, don’t hesitate to give us a call or email us.
Can someone have a feeding tube under hospice care?
Hospice doesn’t include the placement of feeding tubes, or any other steps taken to prolong life at this stage of care. However, patients who already have a feeding tube in place may benefit from hospice services. We will never ask anyone to remove a feeding tube in order to be eligible for assistance.
Sometimes, very close to the end of life, patients may choose to have feeding tubes removed. This decision can also be made on their behalf by loved ones or medical professionals, as artificial feeding and hydration may no longer be playing a helpful role or may become harmful or painful.
Can someone receive IV fluids under hospice care?
Yes. Sometimes hospice will administer IV fluids to help prevent dehydration, help with temporary problems, and keep patients comfortable.
Do in-home hospice aides help with eating and drinking?
Yes, if appropriate hospice staff can help those having difficulty on their own to have satisfying, nourishing meals and to stay well hydrated. This might mean help with eating and drinking or help with household tasks.
Our services are delivered by a mix of qualified professionals (doctors, registered nurses and nurse assistants for example) and trained volunteers. Often, our volunteers can assist with everyday chores like getting groceries, meal preparation, and cleaning up, while professional hospice staff look after those who have difficulty feeding themselves or drinking.
Sometimes we might also provide dietary advice to help patients feel better and get more out of the day. This can include helping other caregivers (such as friends and family members) provide their loved ones the best possible diet.
Does hospice withhold water from patients?
Patients have the right to refuse medical treatment, and under United States law this includes food and water, both delivered as normal meals and through artificial means like feeding tubes and intravenous fluids. Center for Hospice Care respects the right of patients to make this decision – in some cases feeding tubes and artificial fluid delivery systems are uncomfortable or patients feel that they make it harder to participate fully in the last days of their lives.
Artificial fluid delivery can also cause complications such as vomiting and diarrhea in patients near the end of life. IVs and other artificial hydration methods are not always beneficial.
Under some circumstances, doctors may make the decision to withdraw feeding and water from patients, but this only occurs when the patient no longer feels hunger or thirst and is very close to death. It may be felt that the feeding tube or IV is doing nothing more than causing pain or discomfort or producing negative effects. We believe that if the patient can’t be consulted, this step should be discussed with their loved ones if and when medical professionals feel it is appropriate.
Even when water has been withdrawn, ice chips or small sips of water may be given to ensure the patient remains comfortable.
Hospice never aims to end life or hasten the end of life, and water is never withdrawn for this reason or against a patient’s will. Our sole concern is that the patient is allowed a death that is as natural as possible and that every moment before that point is as comfortable, rich, and spiritually full.
How long can a hospice patient live without water?
When medical professionals make the decision to withdraw water, death is usually very close (and would be very close whether or not hydration was kept up). In most cases this means a matter of hours or at most a small number of days. Every patient is different, and we’d strongly urge anyone asking this question about a loved one to talk to their doctor or nurse about why the decision would be made and how close death may be, so that those who want to spend time with the patient or be with them when they go can do so.