Two Questions: One Regarding Dementia; The Other About Nutritional Supplements

QUESTION: How long can a body sustain without food and only take in nutritional liquid supplements?

Because there are many influencing factors my answer won’t be definitive but I can offer you some aspects to consider. Body size is one factor. How much does the person weigh to start with makes a difference. A very thin person doesn’t have the reserves that a heavier person has so the body will shut down faster.

How much nutritional liquid supplement is taken each day is a big factor. One can of protein supplement with 350 calories is not going to do anything while four cans at 350 calories each is enough for nutritional maintenance and with limited energy expenditure can sustain a person nutritionally. With this basic level of nutrition a person will probably die from their disease rather than starvation.

Since the supplement consists of a water base there will be some hydration occurring if no further water is being consumed.

This scenario is not really considered healthy but it is better than nothing and can buy some energy and time when living with disease at the end of life. Know that once a person has entered the dying process they will reach a point where they will not want to drink the supplement. That is part of the normal, natural process of the body shutting down and no matter how much encouragement you give the person to eat and drink, they just can’t do it.

QUESTION: (Someone wrote to me recently with this statement) Both of my parents have been dying the last several years of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is said to be “the long goodbye” and appropriately so. We lose our loved one way before their body actually leaves us.

The challenge is to adjust our interactions and reactions to whatever aspect of dementia is showing itself at any given time. Stated more simply, the challenge is to be in the present, in the moment, in all exchanges (easier said than done).

In relation to end of life you can’t begin to access the signs of approaching death until the person is no longer able to eat.

A person with dementia can have the signs of being in the dying process (withdrawal, lack of appetite and increased sleep) for years and not be in the active dying process. People with Alzheimer’s don't play by the same rules the rest of us do. It is only when eating stops and artificial tube feedings are rejected that the signs of approaching death can be used as guidelines.

I have written other articles on dementia. To find them click on “family” in the right hand column of this page then click on number three at the bottom of the page and scroll through the articles.

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