How Long Can a Hospice Patient Live Without Food or Water?

How Long Can a Hospice Patient Live Without Food or Water?

Hospice care is not about shortening or lengthening the life of a terminally ill patient. Its goal is to provide them with the maximum comfort level by minimizing their symptoms. One of the most common symptoms that caregivers observe before the death of their loved one is that the hospice patient is not eating. At the end of life, not eating or drinking, how long will a patient live?

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Is It Normal When a Hospice Patient Refuses To Eat or Drink?

If a hospice patient is not eating, how long to live? Loved ones will typically get the answer of having 1 to 3 months to spend before the patient’s death. About 1 to 2 weeks before death, they will have very little to no appetite and not feel thirsty at all.

Families and caregivers who notice the decrease in appetite in their patients can call a hospice care provider to help them prepare for the patient’s last days. Patients nearing their end of life will gradually experience a slow down in their metabolism, requiring fewer calories. It is a sign that the body is starting to shut down.

Caregivers should understand that when a patient in hospice no longer needs food or water, they should not force the patient. It’s discouraged to force hospice patients to eat or drink since it can lead to untoward side effects such as aspiration, digestive problems, etc.

So, how long can you live without food in hospice? According to a study, a person cannot survive more than 8 to 21 days without taking any food or water. If the patient is terminally ill, he may live within a few days or hours after stopping any food or water intake. However, we should also remember that each body has a different response to the absence of food or water intake.

Also, estimating how long the patient can live is hard. Fluid is vital in the normal functioning of the body organs, and it has a more significant effect than food intake. Without food, our bodies can break down their reserved energy for several days. However, the kidneys and other organs can be damaged without water within a few days.

Aside from losing the sense of hunger and thirst as a normal dying process, patients may not be alert to swallow safely. To make the patient comfortable while not drinking or eating anything, caregivers can moisten the lips and mouth using cotton and water. This is not to satisfy the patient’s thirst but to relieve a dry mouth.

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When to Stop Feeding a Hospice Patient?

Providing artificial nutrition is a part of health care treatment. However, as patients, they also have the right to refuse medical treatment, including food and water intake, and their decision should be respected.

Since hospice care aims to provide quality of life for patients near their last days, caring for them should include listening to the patient’s wishes. Caregivers should observe the patient’s signs of hunger and offer them food or water when requested.

Do hospice care facilities determine when to stop providing nutrition to their patients? No. It is a misconception when family members assume that the facility prevents the patient from taking anything. The patients decide when they no longer want to take any food or water.

How Can Family Members and Caregivers Help in the Patient’s Nutrition?

Family members and caregivers must understand that patients usually don’t want to be connected to tubes and equipment during their final days. It will allow them to be close with their family members and be more comfortable.

Since patients decide on the care they desire, family members and caregivers can offer support by:

  • Offering ice chips, sips of liquids, and small amounts of food when the patient can still eat or drink. Stop when the patient wants to stop.
  • Keeping the lips and mouth moist using cotton, swabs, lip balm, etc., when the patient can no longer drink.
  • Provide comforting alternatives when the patient no longer wants to eat or drink. Comforting options include loving touches, listening to their stories, singing or listening to his favorite music, and others.

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Determining how long the patient can live without food or water is difficult. Many uses range from hours to months when talking about the patient’s death. Also, family members and caregivers must understand that refusing to drink or eat is expected in the dying process. They must not feel guilty when the patient decides not to receive any nutrition.

If you need hospice care or having a problem with your patient’s nutrition, All American Hospice Care is here to support you. Give us a call today.

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