FEEDING THE PATIENT WITH DEMENTIA — A Healing Process

As a gastroenterologist I am often called in to endoscopically place a feeding tube (PEG)  in patients with dementia.  For me it is a difficult ethical issue but frequently complicated by family ambivalence and confusion over what is best for their relative.

The issue of "starving" their loved-one versus placing an artificial means of nutrition is controversial at best.  Studies have failed to demonstrated that feeding tubes prolong life or even prevent aspiration pneumonia.

This is also must be balanced by the ultimate realization that dementia is a terminal disease.

Perhaps the answer for some families may be the "comfort feeding" proposed in the NY Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/health/03feed.html?_r=1.  It offers a way of involving family members in an act of love and compassion and eliminating the fear of starvation for the patient while eliminating the need for artificial feeding devices.

I would hope that this approach would become more widespread.

Personally it is not "good for business" but  one I believe is better for all concerned.

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