One of the most difficult symptoms hospice families experience is the loss of a loved one's appetite. It is commonly feared that your loved one will “starve to death” or become dehydrated and you may be afraid your loved one will suffer. In fact, the opposite is true. Although adequate end-of-life nutrition in hospice care is important, if a person with a life-limiting illness in the later stages of their disease is forced to eat or drink when they don't feel like it, they might experience physical symptoms that can cause more discomfort and complications.
Complications related to hospice nutrition at the end of life.
Complications can include bloating or uncomfortable fullness. These can lead to nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and/or constipation. They can experience gastric reflux sometimes, it can cause someone to aspirate. Aspiration is when fluids or food are inhaled into the lungs. Even the introduction of IV fluids at this late stage of life can cause complications such as edema, which is swelling within the tissues, as well as “fluid overload." Fluid overload can cause many distressing symptoms. Hospice professionals can help guide caregivers to avoid these types of end-of-life nutrition complications.
The loss of appetite and thirst is a natural process by which the body begins to prepare itself for death. That’s why we would strongly suggest your loved one be allowed to determine what, how much and how often they choose to eat or drink. Food and fluids shouldn't be forced or withheld. Their bodies tell them what they need and when they need it. Occasionally, your loved one may have a craving or request a particular food or drink. Generally speaking, it is fine to honor these requests unless there have been severe restrictions placed on your loved one’s nutrition at the end of life.
If you have any questions about hospice nutrition or would like further clarification, Harmony Hospice staff are always available to answer your questions.