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 Food and Fluids at the End of Life
“Loving Support is often the most important nourishment that can be given.”
Loss of appetite and decrease in thirst are a natural part of the body shutting down. As illness progresses, people often experience a decrease in appetite with little or no interest in food and drink. There comes a point when the body is not able to use the nutrients in food. Understandably, people often find it difficult to see their loved one not eating or drinking, and feel it is necessary to encourage the person to eat in the hope of sustaining life. However, providing food and fluids at this time may actually cause discomfort and may result in increased nausea or a bloated sensation.
Decreasing food and fluid intake is a common, natural part of the dying process.
Is it safe to eat and drink?
As death nears, people are not usually awake enough to swallow safely.
Just as food intake becomes difficult and potentially unsafe, intake of fluids also decreases.
When people have difficulty swallowing, eating and drinking may put them at risk for choking.
Hunger is rarely experienced. However, thirst may occur initially. Thirst is usually related to a sensation of dry mouth.
Careful attention to keeping the mouth moist and clean will enhance comfort.
Providing care and comfort
General tips for mouth care:
• Keep lips moist with water-soluble gels, artificial saliva or unscented moisturizer
• Use a moist cloth, soft toothbrush or plain mouth swab to wipe the mouth
When the person is still able to swallow safely:
Give mouth care, as above
• Let them decide on the amount of food and fluid wanted
• Offer ice chips or popsicles
When the person is no longer able to swallow:
Continue mouth care, as above
• Consider offering other kinds of support such as gentle massage, skin care, music and conversation
Ensure your loved one is fully awake and alert before offering food or fluids. If you are unsure about your loved one’s ability to swallow,
please consult with staff before offering food or fluids
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