Need for food and water changes during illness and end stage disease. Your doctor should be consulted when questions about nutritional needs come up.

Often, when the natural dying process begins, the body’s systems begin to shut down, causing the need for food and fluids to decrease. It is often recommended at this time, to let the patient lead and not force food or water. Family members often have difficulty accepting this change, “as food and water represent sustenance and survival.” The primary concern should be comfort at this stage. The body is undergoing such a major metamorphosis internally. We as caregivers must understand the body’s needs have little resemblance to what they were before.

We seek to be attuned to, and respond to, the unique needs of the moment at hand. The goal is to keep the patient as comfortable as possible.

Helpful things you can do:

  1. Offer food and drink, but do not force it.
  2. Offer food that doesn’t require chewing
  3. Encourage them to eat and drink slowly and offer small amounts
  4. Soft foods like pudding, gelatin, apple sauce, ice cream and protein drinks are often good choices
  5. Assist them to sit upright while eating or drinking or offer a lidded sip cup or a dropper to decrease choking
  6. Offer fluid to help the mouth from becoming too dry
  7. Apply moist swabs or ice cubes to the lips to moisten them.
  8. Continue to give comfort medications.

Note: Give the patient permission to not eat or drink if they don’t want to. Sometimes they may force themselves to eat to satisfy loved ones.

Marty Hogan, L. M. (2007). If I Should Die…The Dying Process. Ashland, Oregon: Sacred Vigil Press.