Hospice Quinte: Changing Lives Podcast

Nutrition at End of Life

March 21, 2022 Hospice Quinte
Hospice Quinte: Changing Lives Podcast
Nutrition at End of Life
Show Notes Transcript

As our loved ones approach the final stages of life comfort care and quality of life become the top priorities.  It is also a time that we must listen carefully to our loved ones, taking their cues to determine what their greatest needs and concerns are.  Human nature compels us to nurture our loved ones in many ways, feeding being one method - however it is important to recognize that nutrition at the end-of-life is much different than how we ate prior to illness.  Find out more in this week's Changing Lives podcast.

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You can listen to episodes of "Changing Lives"  on 91x FM each Monday (except for holidays) at 9:05am.  Hospice Quinte is grateful to the support that 91x FM provides in producing the "Changing Lives" podcast.

About Hospice Quinte
Hospice Quinte provides individuals, their families, and caregivers with compassionate end of life care, by attending to their physical, psychosocial, and practical needs, and offering empathetic care to those who are grieving through visiting hospice services and support groups.  All Hospice Quinte programs and services are provided by compassionate, well-trained volunteers and staff at no charge to the individual or their family.  

Hospice Quinte serves a population of over 102,000 in Quinte West, Belleville, Deseronto, Tyendinaga Township and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. To find out more visit HospiceQuinte.ca.

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As our loved ones approach the final stages of life comfort care and quality of life become the top priorities.  It is also a time that we must listen carefully to our loved ones, taking their cues to determine what their greatest needs and concerns are.  Human nature compels us to nurture our loved ones in many ways, feeding being one method - however it is important to recognize that nutrition at the end-of-life is much different than how we ate prior to illness.  This natural desire to nurture our loved ones can sometimes lead to distress because of a lack of understanding or unclear communication of the individual’s needs during end of life.

Handling nutrition at the end-of-life can be a vulnerable and challenging time especially during the final phases of terminal illness.  When someone is dying, they eat less food.  It is part of the end-of-life process. With this decline in eating, we know families and caregivers experience high levels of emotional stress and it can seem counterintuitive to not prepare and feed our loved ones the foods that comforted them for years.  However, for the person who is in the final stages of terminal illness, there is no proof that increasing calories and eating more food will improve their strength, their energy levels, their ability to function, or even prolong their life.  

Providing an individual at the final stages of end-of-life with a regular diet does not provide the same benefit it would for healthy individuals. This is because their bodies are no longer able to burn energy, build muscle, and store fat in the same way.  In the final phase of a terminal illness, a catabolic state develops in which the body's own muscle, carbohydrates and fat are used for energy, regardless of food intake. Providing a regular or high-calorie diet will unfortunately not benefit the individual in terms of weight gain, improvement in their strength, their energy, or functional status.  This shift, from anabolic to catabolic, is a natural part of the process and occurs whether or not food and fluids are provided. Starvation at the very end of life is not caused by lack of food or because a caregiver isn’t feeding them enough. It is caused by a natural part of the dying process. 

 When end of life comes, there are too few precious moments to be had between the dying patient and their loved ones.  Our distress around eating and nutrition can affect those precious moments. From the caregiver feeling guilt that they aren’t giving enough food or are causing a loved one to “starve to death”, to the dying patient who wants to please his loved ones, so he forces himself to eat.

Occasionally in end-of-life caregiving, there can be what is known colloquially as “The Food Fight” which includes arguments and fighting over whether a person at the very end of life should eat.  These arguments could be with a patient, family, other caregivers or even yourself. When you are fighting about food you are wasting precious moments and adding more stress to your life. 

As death approaches, hunger is no longer a priority.  For those that require it, small amounts of water might be all that the body is asking for.  At this point, the body wants to save the energy it has left.  It is always recommended that caregivers seek guidance from their health care team on what nutrition is best suited for the individual they are caring for.  When in doubt, just ask!  

Mishandling nutrition at the end of life can lead to further complications for the individual, such as bloating, discomfort and nausea.  In most extreme cases, it could cause an individual to aspirate, meaning fluids or food are taken into the lungs.  Reaching out and gathering appropriate answers to your questions will make you feel more prepared and confident in your ability as caregiver.  

Hospice Quinte provides individuals, their families, and caregivers with compassionate end of life care, by attending to their physical, psychosocial, and practical needs, and offering empathetic care to those who are grieving through visiting hospice services and support groups.  All Hospice Quinte programs and services are provided by compassionate, well-trained volunteers and staff at no charge to the individual or their family.  We serve a population of over 102,000 in Quinte West, Belleville, Deseronto, Tyendinaga Township and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.