Comfort Feeding Only: A Proposal to Bring Clarity to Decision-Making Regarding Difficulty with Eating for Persons with Advanced Dementia

(See Editorial Comments by Dr. Daniel J. Brauner, pp 599–601)


Address correspondence to Joan M. Teno, MD, MS, Professor of Community Health and Medicine, Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research, 121 South Main Street, Providence, RI 02912. E-mail:


Feeding and eating difficulties leading to weight loss are common in the advanced stages of dementia. When such problems arise, family members are often faced with making a decision regarding the placement of a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube. The existing evidence based on observational studies suggests that feeding tubes do not improve survival or reduce the risk of aspiration, yet the use of feeding tubes is prevalent in patients with dementia, and the majority of nursing home residents do not have orders documenting their wishes about the use of artificial hydration and nutrition. One reason is that orders to forgo artificial hydration and nutrition get wrongly interpreted as “do not feed,” resulting in a reluctance of families to agree to them. Furthermore, nursing homes fear regulatory scrutiny of weight loss and wrongly believe that the use of feeding tubes signifies that everything possible is being done. These challenges might be overcome with the creation of clear language that stresses the patient's goals of care. A new order, “comfort feeding only,” that states what steps are to be taken to ensure the patient's comfort through an individualized feeding care plan, is proposed. Comfort feeding only through careful hand feeding, if possible, offers a clear goal-oriented alternative to tube feeding and eliminates the apparent care–no care dichotomy imposed by current orders to forgo artificial hydration and nutrition.