How Long Can a Person With Dementia Live Without Food?

How Long Can A Person With Dementia Live Without Food

Many people with dementia in its final stages might not eat or drink. Additionally, they could get dysphagia, which would make it difficult for them to swallow effectively. The amount of time a person can survive without food and water varies, but experts think adequate end-of-life care may help them live better.

Why do individuals with advanced dementia stop consuming food and liquids?

There are numerous causes for why someone can quit eating and drinking. Most people have a decline in activity and calorie requirements when a neurocognitive condition worsens.

The National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders estimates that at least 45% of patients with dementia also have dysphagia (or trouble swallowing) [1]. As a result, a person may be unable to consume enough nutrition and liquids.
Additionally, people with dementia might not maintain their oral hygiene as consistently as they once did. It can lead to sore mouths, infected teeth, and uncomfortable dentures [2].

Another possibility is that the brain damage has extended to the hypothalamus, which controls food intake [3]. Alternatively, it is possible that the person has lost the ability to recognize food or has stopped remembering to eat.

Aging can also be a factor in swallowing problems since the muscles lose bulk and become weaker and less mobile with age. The individual may feel as though they are choking on food or are unable to get it out of their mouth.

How long can a person with dementia survive without food or liquids?

Nobody knows how long someone can live without eating or drinking because it involves many variables. These factors include the person’s age, general health, and the ability of their immune system to combat infections.

Dysphagia is typically present in the later stages of neurocognitive disorders, so if someone has it, it may be a sign that their condition is worsening. As a result, there is a higher chance that someone will inhale food or fluids and develop a chest infection [4].

Although it is impossible to anticipate how long a person can go without eating or drinking, dysphagia can signal the beginning of end-of-life care [5].

What is artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH)?

Artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) is a process in which medical professionals use a tube to administer nutrients and fluids intravenously into a patient’s body. This tube enters the stomach via the nose or a stomach-mounted device.

However, these doctors must provide such therapies in a healthcare facility, which many patients with neurocognitive disorders find stressful. Some people may attempt to take the tubes out.

Since it is unknown whether ANH offers any overall benefits, doctors do not usually advise this treatment for patients with late-stage dementia.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, tube feeding does not enhance a dementia patient’s quality of life [6]. Furthermore, it claims that feeding through a tube does not lower their risk of getting a chest infection.

The Alzheimer’s Association advises people with neurocognitive disorders to plan their end-of-life care while they can still communicate and make decisions. It can include whether or not they desire ANH [7].

What indicators tell that an individual is nearing death?

When a person with dementia is on the verge of passing away, their condition worsens more quickly. They can become agitated and incontinent.

The Alzheimer’s Society of the UK lists the following as symptoms that a person with dementia is nearing death [8]:

  • loss of consciousness
  • unsteady breathing
  • restlessness
  • rattly sound in the chest
  • cold hands and feet

According to a 2019 study, pneumonia was the cause of mortality for 50% of those who needed hospital treatment because they had dementia [9].

Tips to support a person with late stage dementia

Doctors advise assisting patients to eat and drink for as long as possible, even if in small amounts. Here are some tips to help you support your late stage dementia patient.

  • Offer soft food.
  • Thicken liquids with unflavored gelatin or cornstarch.
  • Alternate bites of food with sips of fluid.
  • Offer ice cream or sherbet.
  • Serve finger food if the patient has trouble using cutlery.
  • Help the patient sit in an upright and comfortable position.


  1. Caregiver’s Guide to Dysphagia in Dementia. NFOSD. Published Online: 7th Feb, 2017. Accessed: 4th July, 2023.
  2. Espinosa-Val, M.C., Martín-Martínez, A., Graupera, M., Arias, O., Elvira, A., Cabré, M., Palomera, E., Bolívar-Prados, M., Clavé, P. and Ortega, O., 2020. Prevalence, risk factors, and complications of oropharyngeal dysphagia in older patients with dementia. Nutrients, 12(3), p.863.
  3. Vercruysse, P., Vieau, D., Blum, D., Petersén, Å. and Dupuis, L., 2018. Hypothalamic alterations in neurodegenerative diseases and their relation to abnormal energy metabolism. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 11, p.2
  4. Espinosa-Val, M.C., Martín-Martínez, A., Graupera, M., Arias, O., Elvira, A., Cabré, M., Palomera, E., Bolívar-Prados, M., Clavé, P. and Ortega, O., 2020. Prevalence, risk factors, and complications of oropharyngeal dysphagia in older patients with dementia. Nutrients, 12(3), p.863.
  5. End-of-Life Care for People With Dementia. National Institute on Aging. Accessed: 4th July, 2023.
  6. Alternative Nutrition and Hydration in Dysphagia Care. ASHA. Accessed: 4th July, 2023.
  7. End-of-life Planning. Alzheimer’s Association. Accessed: 4th July, 2023.
  8. How to know when a person with dementia is nearing the end of their life. Alzheimer’s Society. Accessed: 4th July, 2023.
  9. Manabe, T., Fujikura, Y., Mizukami, K., Akatsu, H. and Kudo, K., 2019. Pneumonia-associated death in patients with dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 14(3), p.e0213825.
  10. Dementia: How long can a person live without eating or drinking? Medical News Today. Published Online: 8th Aug, 2022. Accessed: 4th July, 2023.
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