It’s the question you may dread the most: The doctor has indicated that your care recipient will continue to lose weight and suggests a feeding tube.
Should you say “yes”?
We asked Dr. Terrie Ginsberg who specializes in Geriatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine, Center for Aging, Stratford, N.J., for her thoughts. “A feeding tube may be required if a patient needs surgery, was eating prior to surgery and the feeding tube will only be temporary during the recovery process,” Dr. Ginsberg explains.
“But, for a chronic situation, such as dementia, a feeding tube won’t provide adequate nourishment. The tube won’t change the mortality of the patient. It’s a more enjoyable experience to end life without a tube,” she says.
“What’s a better way to eat,” she adds, “with a little something in the mouth or nothing?”
Dr. Ginsberg encourages family members to have discussions about the repercussion of treatment options, so the family and the care recipient own the illness rather than the illness owning life. “We don’t want to take measures that will prolong suffering,” she adds.
To ensure that her patients and their families understand their choices about end-of-life care, Dr. Ginsberg schedules family meetings with patients and family member, often times when out-of-town family members return for visits with their care recipients. “The meetings help the family understand what’s going on with the patient,” she says. In the meetings, Dr. Ginsberg will discuss all aspects of an older adult’s lifestyle including medical problems, depression and sexuality. And, in these discussions, Dr. Ginsberg can help families tackle difficult relationship issues that may, if left unresolved, negatively impact a patient’s end-of-life. Dr. Ginsberg finds that often families will request heroic measures to save a patient because of their issues (unfinished business, guilt).
Dr. Ginsberg works to ensure the patient and families all contribute to a meaningful end-of-life experience. “Death,” she reminds us, “is a part of life.”
Handbook for Mortals, a guide for end-of-life care
- Ask Denise: What Can I Do for Mom with Advanced Dementia? (caregiving.com)
- End-of-Life Care: Working Within the Laws of Nature (caregiving.com)