I talk a lot about eating and not eating as a person approaches the end of their life. I remind people that our body eats to live and that when the body is preparing to die, all by itself, it cuts back and stops eating. The person reaches a place where they just can’t eat no matter how much they or others want them to. My advice is always offer food but don’t force.
In this blog I am going to address the caregiver of the person that doesn’t want to or can’t eat.
As caregivers, we want so much to do the “right thing” for our special person. We know death is coming but still try to do all we can to stop it AND that means getting our person to eat.
The caregiver’s focus becomes getting the person to eat those foods that are especially good for them (protein, high calorie foods). They try frequent, small quantities. Plead. Push. Beg. And when the person doesn’t respond positively to the efforts, eventually frustration, and even anger shows its ugly head. The patient, frustrated, “I just can’t eat. Just leave me alone.” And the caregiver has “if you don’t eat you will die” going through in their head.
Is there a solution to this dynamic? I’m not sure there is. Both patient and caregiver are responding to where life has put them. Responding to their feelings of fear and trying to adapt to the situation life has put them in.
This is where having support for the caregiver is so important. People that can be reached out to, cried with, complained to; people who you can verbalize the frustration, fears, and thoughts with. Support for the caregiver so he/she can partake of their “precious time”. Time to love, time to hold each other, time to laugh.
The caregiver is the one who has to adapt, to deal with the frustrations, to put aside their worry and concern. The patient can’t. They can’t eat, can’t change, and feel they have lost all control over their life. Food is one of the few areas of life we think we can control and they are losing even that. They can’t even eat.
Something More… about Caregiver Fear and Frustration When They Can’t Eat
There is a progression of stopping eating at end of life either from disease or old age. To understand more about this watch NEW RULES for End of Life Care (on Vimeo or get the DVD kit). The film also covers narcotics, sleep, and grief.