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Do Alzheimer's patients stop eating?

Yes, Alzheimer’s patients can stop eating and drinking at any stage of the disease. One cause can be problems with the ability to swallow. Swallowing is not an automatic reflex. It’s a learned skill. Therefore, the neuronal circuits responsible for the ability can be damaged by the disease. It is most commonly observed in moderate to severe Alzheimer’s patients.

However, dying neuronal circuits are not the only reason, why an Alzheimer’s patient stops eating. In this article, you can read about other reasons and possible solutions.

Table of Content
Why do Alzheimer’s patients have swallowing problems?
3 Ideas to help an Alzheimer’s patient, who stopped eating.
Is artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) a good idea for Alzheimer’s patients?
List of Resources
About the Author

Why do Alzheimer’s patients have swallowing problems?

Alzheimer’s progresses and affects the brain region responsible for swallowing. But, another reason can be a very weak swallowing muscle. This can be caused by frailty.

A person in this condition might choke after swallowing food. The same accounts for drinking.

Besides, some patients find the experience of eating unpleasant. Psychological effects of Alzheimer’s, like depression, can be responsible.

In such cases, a therapist can help with psychoeducation. This means educating the family members about the psychological effects of Alzheimer’s and death.

Remember this

Psychotherapy can help to reduce psychological effects, too.

Sensitive teeth can be a reason why a patient decreases food intake.

This can be observed by the number of chews your beloved person does. And whether choking after swallowing is present.

Remember your reaction the last time you swallowed a bit of meat that was too big!

Your general practitioner can assist in finding the problem. Thus, you should as soon as possible make a consultation appointment.

3 Ideas to help an Alzheimer’s patient, who stopped eating.

In this section, you can read through tips, which may or may not help. However, trying them out before feed tubing is key. Those tips are mostly for patients, who have no additional diagnosis besides Alzheimer’s dementia.

What to do if an Alzheimer's patients stops eating?
3 Ideas to help an Alzheimer’s patient, who stopped eating.
1. Give your beloved person whatever they like eating. Sounds cruel for their diet, but stick with me. Once I got my grandpa his favorite “Bratwurst” with mustard. Just as he liked it. Besides, the few teets he had left, the entire bratwurst was gone in a minute.
2. Offer small amounts of food. The important aspect here is to be consistent. Tiny bits of food can be spread over the entire day. This makes it manageable to get all the nutrition needed.
3. Make sure the person is fully awake. Your beloved one should be able to sit as straight as possible. Such a good position will help them to take in food or fluids easier.

Besides the enlisted tips, you can get advice from your general practitioner, too.

For example, if the patient has diabetes, you should still get additional information.

This way you ensure that your beloved one receives proper care.

Is artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) a good idea for Alzheimer’s patients?

The majority of health professionals tend to not recommend it for advanced Alzheimer’s. Feeding a patient with a tube creates unnecessary distress. Patients might pull out their tubes and drips, which can cause an infection.

Food and fluid intake via stomach or nose tube does not prevent coughing.

This can lead to an infection by food entering the windpipe.

In my “All you need to know about Alzheimer’s Guide” you can read about the two types of infections that can lead ultimately to death.

Feeding an individual with ANH does not improve their quality of life.

Contrary, it increases their feeling of being a burden to society, which can lead to depression.

In my personal opinion, being feed by ANH is a decision that should be made by the individual prior to a moderate Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Another point against ANH is that it does not stop the individual from losing weight.

Sometimes, Alzheimer’s patients need to be physically tied down or sedated to make them compliant.

In such a scenario, one might ask: “So, how is that life?”

Family members often argue that ANH is the artificial preservation of life.

While others claim it to be torture.

My opinion is: Patients, who were against ANH, should be allowed the decision of the death of an elderly. The natural way of dying.

Taking this last decision from them seems unethical to me.

Just because we have the “technology” doesn’t always mean it should be used.

In the end, this is my honest opinion.

And as always you are entitled to your own.

List of Resources

Patric Pförtner

B. Sc. Psychology

Hi, my name is Patric Pfoertner and I graduated 2020 from the NBU. Currently, I work and study in Germany. My specialisations are Cognitive Psychology paired with a good slack of Clinical Psychology. Just this year I started publishing my research in the CBB Journal. Feel free to read about it at ResearchGate. Otherwise, click the other button to read my full CV.

About Author ResearchGate

P.S.: I am available for psychological consultation, too.