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Feeding Tubes Should Remain Family Decisions in Nursing Homes

The New York Times Old Age blog recently published a post that discusses the often challenging issues around the insertion of feeding tubes in nursing home patients. Feeding tubes are devices that are inserted into patients who are unable to eat and swallow. Like other medical options that intend to prolong the life of severely ill loved ones, deciding whether or not to use these methods is tough for many families.

The issue forces families to make choices about the quality of life of their loved and the wishes that the individual may or may not have had. Studies indicate that the tubes may not even extend the life expectancy of recipients. Of course, the tubes also do nothing to improve the quality of life. Many residents are physical bothered by the tubes and must be restrained or sedated to avoid pulling them out. Infection, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also common side-effects.

The problem is particularly common among dementia patients who usually experience chewing and eating problems as the disease progresses. About one third of Illinois nursing home residents with advanced dementia ultimately receive the tubes.

Amazingly, some of those residents receive the feeding tube without any consultation with the resident’s family. In what may be grounds for a nursing home lawsuit, some families report walking into their loved ones room to find that a tube had been inserted without consent. One doctor involved in the study believes that a rush to discharge these patients is at the root of the problem. He asks: “How do we move someone quickly out of the system? You put the feeding tube in, you send people back to the nursing home.”

Our Chicago nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti know that families must remain appraised of all important medical developments related to their loved one. It is important that these feeding tubes decisions be handled openly and honestly. All families should discuss the possible benefits and risks with the medical professionals involved and reach the decision that is best in their particular case.

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