Tube feeding patients with dementia.

As the population ages, the incidence of dementia increases. All types of dementia, whether they are reversible or irreversible, lead to loss of intellectual function and judgment, memory impairment, and personality changes. The skills to feed oneself, use eating utensils, and consume items recognized as food, thereby maintaining nutrition status, may be lost as dementia progresses. Reports indicate that nutrition status may be maintained when patients are hand fed, but this is labor intensive and therefore expensive. Feeding via a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube is often chosen as an acceptable alternative. Research indicates that there is little benefit in this population when aggressive nutrition support is instituted. Providing tube feeding to patients with dementia does not necessarily extend life, increase weight, or reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers or aspiration. There are many legal and ethical issues involved in the decision to place a feeding tube in demented patients. The primary issue in patients with dementia may be autonomy and the right of an individual to decide whether or not a tube should be placed at all. Legally, there is clear precedent that the courts see the insertion of a feeding tube as extraordinary care that the patient has the right to refuse. However, much of case law is derived from cases of patients who were in a persistent vegetative state. Advance directives help to determine what the patient would want for himself. Considering all the options before the patient can no longer make decisions is the most desirable course.