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Monday, July 18, 2011

Are Feeding Tubes Always The Solution?

Several million seniors are living with advanced dementia, and most–up to 85 percent–will develop problems eating.

While a third of those patients will receive feeding tubes, new research shows that there are risks involved, and that some patients’ families are not adequately informed about the potential complications.

Dr. Joan Teno told Here & Now‘s Monica Brady-Myerov that many families surveyed said they felt pressured into giving a loved one a feeding tube, even though no one had discussed the risks with them.

The tubes need to be inserted surgically and Teno said they can sometimes lead to blockages and pneumonia.

Alabama resident Martha Crowther was told by a doctor to put her mother on a feeding tube after her mother had had a stroke and stopped eating.

“They told me for her to continue living, she would have to have a feeding tube,” she said.

But after talking to a geriatrician, Crowther decided her mother’s quality of life would be greatly reduced with a feeding tube, and she decided to forgo the service for her mother.

Crowther’s mother was able to start eating again on her own shortly after Crowther’s decision.

Dr. Teno says that frequently doctors are under time constraints and quickly recommend feeding tubes, without trying hand feeding first.


  • Dr. Joan Teno, director of The Gerontology and Healthcare Research Center at Brown Medical School
  • Martha Crowther, who chose not to put her sick mother on feeding tubes

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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