One of the toughest decisions a family may have to make as a loved one’s health deteriorates is whether to go the route of having a feeding tube inserted.

Here are three varieties of tubes commonly used to keep a patient fed and nourished.

  • The NG-tube is inserted through the nose and flows into the stomach.
  • The NJ-tube is also inserted through the nose, going directly into the small intestine.
  • The G-tube is inserted directly into the stomach and is considered more permanently than the others.

When the time came for me to make to make this decision for my father, I elected not to have the procedure performed. I knew at this point my dad had gone through more than enough, for at this point he was barely recognizable.  But believe me, this was an arduous choice. If possible, it shouldn’t be rested on any one person’s shoulders.

Holding back, one’s nourishment is such an unnatural act. As a rule, caregivers spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to hold back the inevitable tide of muscle and weight loss, which ultimately leads not only to not only physical weakness, but mental as well.

If you should find that you are the lone unfortunate person to make this difficult decision, the pressure can become extremely intense. It will seem like that suddenly, everyone who wasn’t around to share in the caring for your loved one before now, abruptly have all sorts of strong opinions on the subject. Some will even question you on how the heck did it come to this point.

It may make you want to shout, “Maybe if you would have been here to help the past few years, you wouldn’t have to ask this question.”

Next comes the medical professionals, demanding you make this hard choosing in the next ten minutes. Hopefully throughout this short period, they are explaining all that is truly involved with inserting a feeding tube.

The downside is a high risk of infection, nausea, diarrhea and, if there is dementia involved, they may become more confused resulting in the pulling out of their tubes themselves. On the other hand, this will keep them nourished and alive. Tough decisions need to be made.

Therefore, I urge you and your loved one to sit down with an elder law attorney as early as possible after the diagnosis of any dementia related disease. An advance directive and do not resuscitate and more, need to be discussed and put into place. This will help remove some of the heavy guilt that falls on the person who must make this grave decision. By knowing you are following your loved one’s choices will be comforting at a very difficult time.

By having these things in place, you can know concentrate on making sure your loved one remains as comfortable as possible during a difficult time.


Gary Joseph LeBlanc

Education Director

Dementia Spotlight Foundation