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Is My Mom Starving?

“He used to love this!”

“I feel like I’m starving her.”

Hospice staff members hear these statements time and time again. Families become genuinely concerned when their loved one won’t eat or drink. Traditionally, many families gather around the table to share a meal. However, this act of sharing is much more than the meal. It is a way for families to come together and is often an act of love and caring. When we become ill, our body naturally desires less food and liquids. The body focuses energy on organs like the heart and lungs. Other organs begin to slow down, including the stomach. For family members caring for a loved one, the sight of someone seemingly “starving to death” is alarming. It doesn’t seem natural.

Hospice staff works diligently with family members to educate them and provide support as these changes happen. Without this constant education, families may begin to feel guilt or anxiety as they imagine their loved one suffering. The truth is that when we listen to our body’s rejection of food and water during these final stages, our body benefits.

The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Assocation (2013) states

“There is a physiological benefit to dehydration as death nears. Endorphins are released in the body that may cause a feeling of calmness and comfort.”


“Thirst is caused by dry mouth, not dehydration. Providing a small amount of fluid and gentle oral care is usually sufficient to provide comfort: use a mouth sponge moistened with cool water to gently swab the inside the mouth, the front of the tongue, and the lips.”

It is essential that there is an open level of communication between hospice staff and patient family to address c address members, thus allowing for these concerns and questions to be addressed.

members, thus allowing for these concerns and questions to be addressed.

Changes in Hydration in the Final Days . (2013, December). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from

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