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The Pros and Cons of Feeding Tubes for the Elderly

The Pros and Cons of Feeding Tubes for the Elderly
Kevin Cleary

The conversation around feeding tubes for the elderly may seem like a cut-and-dry, simple decision. Not so!! The reasons you may want to consider a feeding tube for our elderly loved ones can vary, and each patient needs a feeding tube.

Family members or those making healthcare decisions must consider the pros and cons of feeding tubes for the elderly. Does the quality of life with a feeding tube increase? Is a feeding tube considered life-support? These are just some of the questions you may encounter when choosing if feeding tubes for the elderly are appropriate. We here at HPFY can give you some important information to help you make this choice, and our website, HPFY, has plenty of options for feeding tubes and accessories.

Needs and Feeding Tube Types

Our elderly loved ones may require increased nutritional needs as they age, and due to illness or injury, they may be unable to eat the food required. Often, those who may be at risk of developing aspiration pneumonia (food in the lungs) are candidates for a feeding tube. Feeding tubes can deliver nutrition or medication directly into a patient’s digestive system. This can be achieved by a few types of feeding tubes that include:

  • Temporary feeding tubes: These tubes are placed through the mouth/nose into the stomach and remain in place for up to two weeks. These include nasogastric, nasoduodenal, and nasojejunal tubes.
  • Semi-permanent or permanent feeding tubes: Placed with a surgical incision and directly into the stomach. These tubes bypass the mouth, throat, and esophagus. A percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy (PEG) and percutaneous endoscopic jejunostomy (PEJ) placed in the abdomen are good examples.

These surgical procedures are routine and relatively quick, and the feeding can begin ASAP, but as with any other surgery, they are associated with risks. Often, these procedures can be done without anesthesia. Each patient’s condition should be considered before any surgery. The need for a feeding tube can vary, but often some needs can be:

Pros and Cons

The million-dollar question is: Is a feeding tube right for my elderly loved one? There are pluses and minuses to the use of feeding tubes in elderly patients. Each patient is unique, and no one-size-fits-all solution surrounds feeding tubes. Consider:

Pros Cons
Deliver needed nutrition or medication This can lead to social isolation from others
Relieve gas, bloating, vomiting, or nausea Tube leakage, diarrhea, and dermatitis
Avoid aspiration pneumonia Surgical infection

Many feel that withholding a feeding tube in an elderly loved one can be “giving up” on life, but the benefits must be weighed against the negatives. For instance, the mortality rate of those with PEG tubes after one year is approximately 50%-60%. Some research indicates that 70% of elderly patients with feeding tubes showed no function or nutritional status improvement. You should consult your doctor and discuss expectations for quality of life with a feeding tube.

Feeding Tubes and Dementia

One of the toughest decisions for family members of loved ones is whether or not to incorporate a feeding tube in those with advanced dementia. Is a feeding tube considered life-support? For many, the answer to this question can be no. Unfortunately, current research has shown that there is insufficient evidence that feeding tubes are beneficial to those with advanced dementia. Some indicators of this are:

  • Feeding tubes have not been shown to reduce aspiration risk or decrease mortality rates in patients with advanced dementia
  • Discomfort/agitation associated with feeding tubes can lead to patients trying to remove their tube feed
  • Nutrition delivered from feeding tubes may not mean a patient will gain weight or improve quality of life
  • Increased risk of infection and recurrent or new onset aspiration and the increase of oral secretions

The American Geriatric Society states that hand feeding can be as beneficial as tube feeding but, unfortunately, takes longer. Research has shown that administering nutrition through a feeding tube has little to no benefit for prolonging life as opposed to hand feeding.

The reasons for a feeding tube in adults and the elderly can be many, but the decision to install a feeding tube in our elderly loved ones can be difficult. Loved ones may feel they are “giving up” on a cherished family member by withholding a feeding tube. You should discuss this with your doctor and decide based on facts, not emotion. If you choose to go the route of a feeding tube, visit our site, HPFY, for all your feeding tube needs.

Enteral Feeding Supplies At HPFY



Disclaimer: All content found on our website, including images, videos, infographics, and text were created solely for informational purposes. Our reviewed content should never be used for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of any medical conditions. Content shared on our websites is not meant to be used as a substitute for advice from a certified medical professional. Reliance on the information provided on our website as a basis for patient treatment is solely at your own risk. We urge all our customers to always consult a physician or a certified medical professional before trying or using a new medical product.


HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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