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Tube Feeding: What is it and when is it used?

  • 4 mins

‘Tube feeding is a way of getting your body the nutrition it needs. Tube feed is a liquid form of nourishment that’s delivered to your body through a flexible tube. The nutrients of a tube feed are similar to what you would get from normal food, and are also digested in the same way. It contains all the nutrients you need on a daily basis, including carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals and water.’ – Tube Feeding Australia

Tube feeding can help for a variety of different reasons, including:

  • Problems with an individual’s mouth, oesophagus (food pipe) or stomach
  • Swallowing problems which put them at a risk of choking and aspirating (i.e., food enters not only the oesophagus and stomach but also the lungs)
  • Difficulty managing to take enough food by mouth to meet their nutritional needs

At HenderCare, we work with a number of service recipients who require tube feeding, including with our allied health team.

We recently sat down with HenderCare Dietitian Natalie Mullins, to discuss how she works with service recipients in delivering tube feeding.

1. As a dietician, how do you work with service recipients who require tube feeding?

People who require tube feeding are usually seen once a month for a review of their feeding regime, bowels, hydration, weight, satiety and monitoring of the tube and stoma site. If they have had their feeding tube for a long time and are very stable, they may be seen less often, and if they have a new tube or their nutrition needs have changed, they may require weekly support.

Another important part of tube feeding is ensuring that all of the required products are ordered in a timely manner to ensure people don’t run out of stock. This involves working with suppliers on behalf of the client to choose the right product for them, and ensuring they order the correct amount.

People with a feeding tube need the tube changed once every 3, 6 or 12 months depending on the type of tube. As a dietitian, I help clients to organise their tube changes, which may happen at home or in the hospital depending on their preferences and the type of tube they have.

  2. How important is receiving the right amount of nutrition, for someone who may not be able to receive it independently?

Receiving adequate nutrition is essential to maintain wellbeing and quality of life.

Without enough energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and fluid, people are at risk of unintentional loss of weight and muscle mass, skin breakdown leading to pressure injuries, decreased energy levels and fatigue. For people who are still able to eat and drink, but only in small amounts, tube feeding can help to decrease the burden and stress of trying to push themselves to eat and drink enough.

The tube feeding can be used to provide their nutrition and hydration, while they eat and drink for enjoyment and pleasure. This can also decrease stress for family members.

3. What are some of the reasons tube feeding may be required for a service recipient?

Tube feeding is most often required for people who have a swallowing impairment, called ‘dysphagia’.

This means their ability to eat and drink is limited. They may require modified texture food and fluids in a very small amount, which may not be adequate to meet their body’s nutrition needs, and therefore require supplemental tube feeding (which is provision of nutrition via a tube in addition to their oral intake).

If a person has very severe dysphagia, they may be unable to eat and drink at all, in which case they will require all of their nutrition and hydration needs to be met by the tube feed.

In some cases, people may not have dysphagia, but there may be other limitations to their oral intake, such as a gastrointestinal condition, absence of appetite or significant fatigue which limits how much they can eat or drink.

In this situation, tube feeding is a good way to provide their body with nutrition and help them recover, and it is usually short-term support rather than something required as a long term plan.

 

If you or a loved one requires tube feeding and would like support in this area, please check out our dietetics services here: Dietetics – HenderCare 

Additionally, our speech pathologists are also able to assist those who receive tube feeding. Speech pathology services can be found here: Speech Pathology – HenderCare

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