Artificial Nutrition and Hydration in the Management of End-Stage Dementias

Rory Fisher, MB, FRCP(Ed)(C), Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.

Eoin Connolly, MA, Clinical Ethics Fellow, Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.

Canada's aging population makes appropriate end-of-life care a priority. Alzheimer's disease and related dementias become increasingly common with aging. The terminal stages are characterized by severe cognitive and physical incapacity with a poor prognosis. Artificial nutrition and hydration may be provided by feeding tubes; however, there is no
evidence of benefit, and there are significant side effects to be considered. Barriers to appropriate end-of-life decision making are identified, and current evidence indicates that this patient population should be treated with appropriate palliative care.

Key words:
Alzheimer’s disease, artificial nutrition and hydration, dementia, end-of-life care, ethics.