Understanding Changing Appetites at End of Life

| By Jodi Horton

Over the course of your illness, it is natural that your appetite will decline. This can be very difficult for you and your loved ones, as the preparation and sharing of meals are deeply symbolic ways in which we love and nurture one another and celebrate life together. At Casa, we believe it is important that loved ones and caregivers follow your lead regarding your diet. When you do have an appetite, you may enjoy favorite and/or easily digestible foods.

Some of the reasons appetite may decline include:

  • The natural progression of your illness;
  • Side effects of medications and treatments;
  • Soreness in the mouth due to the above, or to ill-fitting dentures;
  • A reduced ability to swallow.

As your illness progresses, there may come a time when you no longer desire food and may want to decline fluids as well. It is important to trust the wisdom of your body at this time, as this is often nature’s way of preparing us for the end of life. Forcing food and drink can cause physical discomfort when the body is no longer able to process them.

As your appetite ceases, it is helpful if caregivers:

  • Trust the wisdom of your body.
  • Do not force foods or fluids, or induce guilt over the refusal of them.
  • Provide small amounts of fluids with a straw, or ice as tolerated.
  • Keep your mouth fresh and moist with the help of sponge toothettes.
  • Discuss any concerns with your nurse.

A different kind of nourishment is needed now. The gifts of enduring love and companionship become more precious than those of food and drink. The senses of hearing, sight, smell, and touch can be nurtured, according to your preferences. You may enjoy favorite music, arrangements of special photographs, art, or spiritual objects. Live plants, fresh flowers, fresh air, and natural, soft, or candle light can enhance the environment. The sharing of spiritual practices, the gifts of touch, massage, or other complementary therapies can nourish the heart and spirit at this time.

Casa de la Luz Hospice provides hospice care to patients in Pima County and southern Pinal County. If you or someone you know would benefit from the supportive care of an interdisciplinary hospice team, call Casa de la Luz at (520) 544-9890 to schedule a no-cost evaluation. 

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