Learn About The Basics Of Feeding Tubes For Seniors
Pegasus skilled in-home caregivers in Antelope Valley and elsewhere offer all levels of assistance to our clientele. Some individuals have conditions that make them unable to eat or drink unaided. Our career home health care nurses describe the basics of feeding tubes for seniors.
Most individuals put food in their mouths, chew it, and swallow it without thinking. But eating is a process, and specific conditions interfere with each step. Most result in dysphagia, which means difficulty swallowing.
Dysphagia can occur at any age but more often affects the elderly. It has numerous causes, many resulting from damage to the esophagus. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Esophageal spasms, narrowing, weak muscles, or tumors.
- Radiation that has scarred or inflamed esophageal tissue.
- Scarring and hardening of esophageal tissue due to scleroderma.
- Tissue damage from stomach acid in individuals with GERD.
Other causes weaken the throat muscles and make swallowing difficult. These include neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Damage from a stroke and brain or spinal cord injuries can also affect the ability to eat.
Individuals with dementia may have trouble recognizing food and being willing to eat it. They must then decide to chew the food and swallow it. Then dysphagia interferes with the reflex action that enables swallowing.
Those individuals are at risk for aspiration and potentially dangerous lung infections. They may also become malnourished, dehydrated, and underweight.
Feeding Tubes Help Prevent Malnutrition And Dehydration
A feeding tube provides nutrition to an individual who is unable to eat or drink. Professionals insert feeding tubes through the nose or abdomen. The tube may be temporary or permanent, depending on the person’s condition.
A temporary feeding tube is usually in place for a month or less. It’s most often a nasal tube. Placing an abdominal feeding tube requires surgery.
The names of feeding tubes identify whether they are nasal or abdominal. They are further described by the part of the digestive system to which they supply nutrients. The five primary types are:
- Nasogastric: the tube is inserted through the nose to reach the stomach.
- Nasodudenal: the tube is inserted through the nose to reach the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.
- Nasojejunal: the tube is inserted through the nose to reach the jejunum, which is the second part of the small intestine.
- Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG): the tube is inserted through the abdominal wall into the stomach.
- Percutaneous endoscopic jejunostomy (PEG): the tube is inserted through the abdominal wall into the jejunum.
PEG and PEG feeding tubes are often permanent. They are also used if the individual’s nose or esophagus is too damaged for a nasal tube.
Feeding tubes of all types prevent malnutrition and dehydration. The formulas used in the tubes are nutritionally complete liquids. Formulas vary according to the individual’s needs.
Medication can also be given via a feeding tube. Some tubes serve to decompress the stomach by removing air or gas. They can also be used to suction out the contents of the stomach when necessary.
Some individuals are able to eat and drink with a feeding tube inserted. As they regain their abilities, the tube may be removed.
Enteral Nutrition Is Another Name For Feeding Tubes
Enteral nutrition means that nutrients are delivered directly to the digestive system. Home health care nurses help patients with Home Enteral Nutrition (HEN). The individuals often have other conditions for which they also receive care.
The nurses coordinate care with other members of their Pegasus team, including dietitians and therapists. They may also work with specialists that include surgeons, gastroenterologists, or endocrinologists. Home healthcare specialists additionally help train family caregivers.
Home Health Care Nurses Are Patient Advocates
Although feeding tubes are essential in specific circumstances, having one inserted comes with risks. Tubes often bother cognitively impaired individuals, and they may try to pull them out. They must be given drugs or otherwise restrained from removing the tubes.
You must watch for aspiration and pressure sores in your bedridden patients as feeding tubes increase their risk. Some of your patients may experience discomfort from the digestive process, such as nausea or diarrhea. Inspect the patient’s skin each feeding as some tubes leak and individuals may develop infections or skin irritations.
Hand-feeding is an option for some patients. That can be a laborious and time-consuming process. Hand feeding can increase the pressure for a family caregiver to authorize enteral nutrition.
As individuals near the end of life, their bodies start shutting down. They may refuse to eat, and families fear their loved one is starving to death. It’s crucial that families understand that not eating is normal and a feeding tube may not be a good choice.
There is no evidence that enteral nutrition will prolong the life of dying individuals. In fact, feeding tubes can cause unnecessary discomfort. They do not improve the quality of life.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Our healthcare professionals in Antelope Valley and our other locations help individuals live safely and independently at home. Our career in-home health care nurses are dedicated to improving the quality of life for our clientele.