Nutrition and Hydration for Hospice Patients

Nutrition at the End of Life

As the body changes at end of life, the desire for food decreases. This is a natural and normal process. Gentle prodding to eat signifies caring, but pull back when necessary. Read more in-depth information on nutrition at the end of life.

  • Smaller Portions: Psychologically, the illusion of portion size may play a role in the amount the person will eat. Smaller plate sizes give the illusion of smaller portions. This may enable the person to eat more.
  • Social Mealtime: Share mealtime with the person as often as possible. Attempt to make mealtime a social time, with emphasis on enjoying rather than enduring.
  • Emotions: Have patience and understanding. Sometimes, the person may crave and ask for a certain food - only to find it impossible to eat once it arrives. Avoid anger in these situations. Displaying anger or disappointment may discourage the person from asking for a desired food again.

Dehydration at the End of Life

Artificially introducing fluids at this time overtaxes the heart, lungs and kidneys. A number of studies have reported that people at the end of life that become dehydrated naturally remain comfortable. In fact, dehydration reduces the risk of distressing symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting and choking
  • Lung congestion
  • Rattling secretions
  • Shortness of breath
  • Edema (swelling caused by excess fluid)

It is important to keep the mouth moist for comfort measures, as this is the only place people feel “dry” when dehydrated.

  • If your loved one can swallow, give small amounts of water with a syringe or ice chips 
  • Moisten a wash cloth to suck
  • Swab the mouth with toothettes soaked in water
  • Keep the lips soft and moist with lip gel or balm