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Jim has survived 13 years of dementia in large part due to the excellent medical professionals that have served us during that time. I respect them all immensely and value their friendship. So I was startled when one of Jim’s doctors turned to me and said Are you force feeding Jim?. Heavens I thought, that sounds horrible. Why would I do such a thing and why would the doctor even ask me that? To me force feeding” sounded like it came out of a terrorists playbook. But in reality I didn’t even know what the term force feeding meant. So I asked the doctor what it was.

To my surprise the doctor said it was spoon feeding a patient who would not pick up a spoon or fork and do it for themselves. Even if the person with dementia eats willingly with assistance, the term force-feeding is used to describe the assistance. Well, truth be known, I was force feeding Jim all the time. When Jim got tired of feeding himself, I would pick up the fork or spoon and start feeding him. To me spoon feeding was basic humane care and I had asked all of his caregivers to do it as well.

The doctor told me that forced-feeding needed to be a conscious decision on my part.

Dementia is a chronic, progressive disease that can lead to days of suffering. The implication was that once you force feed, you have made a decision that is going to last for the remaining lifetime. There will be no going back. You want to be sure that your current living situation is the pattern or lifestyle you want to continue because with assisted oral feeding the dementia patient’s life could go on for many, many years.

I told the doctor I had already made a conscious decision and I would be feeding Jim. For me this was not even a decision to consider. If Jim would eat, I would feed him. Even if I wanted Jim to avoid suffering, starvation did not seem like mercy to me.

If someone in your family has dementia, please know that force feeding is a subject that may come up.

It is a personal decision and often left to the spouse or closest family member to consider as the dementia patient has often lost or is viewed to have lost the ability to make this kind of judgment. And at this point it is difficult to be sure what the person with dementia would have wanted in their current condition. But for me It is also is a moral and ethical issue. And if direction is needed to begin framing the decision, the golden rule from Luke 6:31 “do unto others as you would have done to you”, is a good place to start.


Force Feeding Oct 2015


13 Responses

  1. Malia Kline

    Beautifully said. When an obviously “very rational” doctor suggested something similar to us about just letting our dad starve, my first question was “How long does it take for a 175-pound man to starve, and what would it be like for his family to watch that?” I never even got the courtesy of an answer.

    • Vicki Hafele

      Those are some incredibly thoughtful questions Malia. I guess the doctor didn’t want to think about that side of it. You came up against this disregard for life very rationally yourself. Good job. We have to fight this throw away life mindset that we run into today.

  2. Jim Augustin

    Thanks, I admire you for be a blogger on all this.

  3. Carolyn Mayer

    I cannot comment on this because it is too raw even now for me after Mom’s going HOME. I only wish that I had read that little book that Hospice gave me before she went. Every step that Mom took was in that book and I did not recognize it because I did not know these things. Knowledge and the Wisdom to act on it is powerful. My love and prayers are with you both.

  4. Vicki, I was surprised that in Jim’s case, a change of medicine reversed Jim’s ability to feed himself. So, I guess it depends what medicine a patient is on as to what their abilities or disabilities are. I do not know everything about dementia, but I thought that the disease only went in one direction. In some incidences Jim’s abilities are getting better.

  5. Vickie,
    taking care of a person with dementia is so much more complex than one can possibly imagine… thank you for educating us and so openly discussing very personal/controversial topics. Bon appetit Dad!
    Love you both.

  6. Vickie,
    Knowing you I know you would do anything you could to help your love, Jim. Our prayers for both of you.

  7. another great contribution – one of my clients is a very senior exec with a west coast utility company – while meeting with him, I could tell he was off – distracted – i asked him what’s up and he shared that it wasn’t work, but home and about his 83 year old mother who has dementia – i shared with him that you were writing a blog and i offered to forward it on to him. you really are making an impact and difference you may have no idea you are making…

  8. Linda Helikson

    Vicki..Wow…you are my hero. Jim is a lucky man. Our world would be a better place if we all loved like you love Jim. I enjoy reading your blog so much.

  9. Diane O'Malley

    Vickie….Thank you so much for explaining what forced feeding really is…I believe this is another complex issue that we should consider and talk about when we are considering what our own
    choices would be. Jim looks fantastic…your love for him beautiful….

  10. Pastor Mack

    You are an Angel of our Lord, that’s the name and title I have personally translated from your caring for others , to identify you, it’s obvious your passion for possibilities to make your dear husband life journey an easy one , it has not been a negative struggle but a positive one, your journey as you share it, helps me deal with my dear Connie’s lung cancer, hers not curable but it’s treatable, thank you.

  11. Gilda Johnson

    Vickie – please take care of yourself as well. What time to you set aside for yourself? if any, other than work?
    would be interested to know your routine.

  12. Nancy Fisher

    Wow. So much to consider. Thank you for sharing this journey. It makes me think about having conversations with my husband if one of us is in the same situation. You have such a kind heart of mercy. May God bless you both richly.

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