Tube feeding in patients with advanced dementia: a review of the evidence

JAMA. 1999 Oct 13;282(14):1365-70. doi: 10.1001/jama.282.14.1365.


Patients with advanced dementia frequently develop eating difficulties and weight loss. Enteral feeding tubes are often used in this situation, yet benefits and risks of this therapy are unclear. We searched MEDLINE, 1966 through March 1999, to identify data about whether tube feeding in patients with advanced dementia can prevent aspiration pneumonia, prolong survival, reduce the risk of pressure sores or infections, improve function, or provide palliation. We found no published randomized trials that compare tube feeding with oral feeding. We found no data to suggest that tube feeding improves any of these clinically important outcomes and some data to suggest that it does not. Further, risks are substantial. The widespread practice of tube feeding should be carefully reconsidered, and we believe that for severely demented patients the practice should be discouraged on clinical grounds.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Dementia* / complications
  • Empirical Research*
  • Enteral Nutrition* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Infections / etiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / etiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / etiology
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / prevention & control
  • Pressure Ulcer / etiology
  • Pressure Ulcer / prevention & control
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Survival Rate
  • Treatment Outcome