This week (14th-18th May) is Dying Matters Week, a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of talking about dying, death and bereavement. In this blog, we talk about eating and drinking at the end of life, which we know can be a source of worry and anxiety for family and friends caring for a loved one.
We all seem to find it difficult to talk about death and dying. We tend to shy away from it because we find it uncomfortable or worry it’ll bring up difficult emotions.
But talking more openly with our family and friends means that we can all be better prepared for death when it comes. It means that we can better understand our loved one’s wishes or fears around dying, make sure that their wishes are respected and ensure that we have the right information to challenge health and care professionals if need be.
We often hear from people who have experienced a death that they felt unprepared for the physical changes that happen at the end of life. They wish that they had been better informed and knew what to expect.
Matters relating to food and drink in the last few days of someone’s life can often cause the most fear, upset and conflict among families.
It’s normal for people nearing death to have a decrease in appetite and thirst, wanting little or no food or fluid. This is because the body will begin to conserve energy.
But this can be hard to accept. It might seem like they are not getting the care they need if they are not being fed or given water.
We associate food with comfort, life and strength. We use food to show our family and friends that we care for them. So when someone stops wanting or needing food and drink it can seem counter-intuitive. We might worry that they are starving or thirsty.
But when someone wants little or no fluid or food at the end of life, good mouth care and keeping mouth and lips moist will be enough to keep them comfortable.
It will help to have clear conversations with staff so that everyone understands what is going to happen, what to expect and what would be best to keep their loved one comfortable, pain free and calm.
How we can help
The Malnutrition Task Force, together with Age UK, have produced a booklet and short film to help start conversations about death and dying with our loved ones. To help everyone feel empowered and confident to talk about death, to ask questions of each other, to listen, to be sure what our loved ones would like to happen when death comes.
It also provides some information about eating and drinking at the end of life and other issues such as personal care, pain relief and physical changes.
This will support us all to have the knowledge and ability to challenge systems and organisations to ensure that everyone has the best death possible.
To read other Malnutrition Task Force blogs, click here.