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Considering IV Hydration For Your Loved One? Here’s What You Need To Know

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When a loved one is receiving hospice care, families are faced with medical decisions where you feel like you’re choosing between comfort or longevity of your loved one’s life. One of these decisions is whether to use IV hydration for your loved one if they’re experiencing dehydration. 

Are you considering IV hydration for your loved one? There’s a lot of information out there about it, and it can be confusing to know what decision is best for your family. When making these kinds of tough decisions, we encourage you to ask questions. You do not have to go through this alone. 

At Envision Hospice, we are here to walk beside you.

Building a comfortable hospice care plan takes a team. As a part of your family’s team, we want to provide you with all of the information you need to advocate for your loved one. Let’s break down IV hydration together.

What is IV hydration?

When patients struggle to stay hydrated, health care professionals may use this technique to increase electrolytes and water intake. But what causes the end-of-life dehydration process? Many end-of-life conditions can lead to dehydration, such as dysphasia, inability to swallow, and neurological or gastrointestinal illnesses. These conditions can make it difficult to consume food and water. Some patients begin to withdraw near the end of life and may be less likely to eat or drink. Patients with such medical conditions or withdrawn feelings could be in the end-of-life dehydration process. 

This is the time when their caregivers or family members may need to consider the positive and negative effects of IV hydration.

Although IV hydration may seem like a clear answer for your family’s needs, it may not be the best choice for everyone. It is possible, even likely, that your loved one will be more comfortable without it. As advocates for your patient, let’s consider the pros and cons of this method.

Choosing Care With IV Hydration

When family members seek hospice care for a loved one, they typically ask questions like:

  • How can I keep my dad fed and hydrated?
  • What could make mom feel more comfortable and relieve her pain?
  • My loved one’s health seems to be declining. What can I do to turn him around?

The use of IV hydration could be a good response to questions like these. We understand that you want the best for your loved one — a long and comfortable life. IV hydration is often brought up as a means to extend the longevity of a patient. It is common to see a patient live for more time through this method. The body requires water, even more so than food, to function, and being hydrated can slow down the decline. 

This method may also cause changes in the balance of electrolytes, which are important minerals that balance the water content in the body. Increased hydration could likely add to the overall balance of electrolytes, but could potentially worsen it, too. IV hydration may also be used to transition a patient from the hospital to their home. 

When family members seek hospice care for their loved one, they want to do something to prolong life. We understand. On the whole, IV hydration supports the overall quantity of life. Using this method could help to give you a sense of peace. 

There are other factors to consider, however when deciding whether or not to use IV hydration. To draft the best plan of care for your loved one, let’s take a look at the negatives of this method.

Choosing Care Without IV Hydration

Families who are seeking hospice care for their loved one usually want to prioritize:

  • Consistent and healthy nutrition — food and water supply that meets the needs of their specific family member.
  • A comfortable body and calm atmosphere to ease the effects of end-of-life ailments.
  • Sustaining life for extended time — holding onto the time left with a precious loved one.

Because of your love for them, we understand. With the limited medical resources many families have at home, it can be hard to tell if extra hydration helps or harms the well-being of the patient. What could be the benefits of not using IV hydration?

Once the end-of-life dehydration process and organ failure begins, certain toxins are produced. However, these toxins can cause beneficial side effects! These typically include feelings of tranquility, sleepiness, and pain relief, as endorphins are produced. These feelings can be interrupted through the use of IV hydration. The more hydration the body is given, the harder it must work to process it. 

While coping with organ dysfunction, many patients are faced with added distress through IV hydration. Why? There are many possibilities. We often see patients struggle through increased secretions (the buildup of extra fluid in the respiratory system, leading to difficulty breathing). We also see them challenged with loose bowels, skin irritations, painful movement, or nausea. Simply put, it’s common that patients live more comfortably without the use of IV hydration. As a result, we often provide our hospice care without the use of this method. 

Quality of life is also important to consider. We listen to the wonderful memories shared by family members, and we understand. The touches, the looks, and the words spoken during the end-of-life process are precious. When patients go without IV hydration, there is more likelihood of tactile interaction between them and their families. There is typically less overall pain, and less restrictive movement. It decreases family anxiety to see the patient comfortable and interactive. 

Walking Alongside You

Deciding whether or not to use IV hydration can seem like choosing between the quality and quantity of life for your loved one, and it’s hard to know what’s best for your family. Remember, it takes a team to build the best plan of care for the person in your care. You are the best advocate for the needs of your loved one and your family. We are here to walk beside you through this process and answer any questions you have. Some of us have even walked through it ourselves.

Jaime, one of Envision Hospice’s incredible and compassionate clinicians, shared his experience with IV hydration. When Jaime chose hospice care for his grandfather, he initially decided to use IV hydration. He was in nursing school at the time, and he believed it was necessary. 

“I thought, If I’m not doing something, I’m doing something wrong.”

After using the IV method for a while, it struck Jaime that the option of not using IV hydration hadn’t even been presented to him and his grandfather. After much discomfort, his grandfather told him, “I’ve had enough. I’m tired.” When the IV was removed, he was able to have a more comfortable and peaceful end-of-life experience.

“After working in this setting for a long time,” Jaime said, “I know that we need to do what is best for each individual family.”

As part of your team, we are here to listen and learn from your family. You don’t have to make this decision alone. Now that you know the positives and negatives of IV hydration, you may feel ready to start a conversation about it, or hospice care in general, with one of our understanding team members. 

If you have questions about IV hydration or feel ready to begin talking about hospice care, please contact us here anytime. We are here for you.

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