In my experience people are torn up inside about whether or not to put an artificial feeding tube in an old person. Most caregivers who face this decision have never had to consider a treatment like this. Most of us wish for ourselves that we would die peacefully in our sleep without any machines or tubes in the way. The stories we hear about feeding tubes are a mixture of great benefit to one stroke patient, for example, to no help at all for an advanced Alzheimer’s patient.
How do you decide?
First, everyone’s case is special with its own unique concerns. No blog, book, or Internet tool could ever replace advice from healthcare professionals familiar with your particular set of circumstances.
That said, I found a great resource for helping make a decision about feeding tubes used in elderly patients. I have been following a blog by Paula Span in the New York Times called, “The New Old Age.” Several months ago she discussed the artificial feeding issue. She passed on a recommendation of a helpful tool in making this decision. The tool is actually a guide that comes from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
The guide is “Making Choices: Long Term Feeding Tube Placement in Elderly Patients.” It is in booklet and audio form both of which can be downloaded for free. The authors explain, with diagrams, what a feeding tube is and how it works. They lay out the advantages and disadvantages of artificial feedings. They answer important questions like, “What is supportive care?” and “Can tube feeding be discontinued?”
Most helpful is the “Personal Worksheet for Feeding Tube Placement” where anyone can fill in the blanks as it applies to your particular case. They give examples of others as case studies showing how the decision-making process works. I liked how they show the difference in deciding for someone with a new stroke as opposed to someone who has advanced Alzheimer’s. Very different cases in my view.
Check it out. It may or may not be helpful to you but it is worth a try.