Dad is refusing to eat after his surgery, is this typical for recovery or is he giving up?

Passar asked...

My Father has Parkinson's and he recently fell and broke his hip, about 5 weeks ago. He made it through surgery and he is now in a nursing home. He is progressively getting worse and in the last several days he has refused to eat, won't take his meds and is not communicating at all. Is this typical or has he just given up?

Expert Answer

Audrey Wuerl, RN, BSN, PHN, is education coordinator for Hospice of San Joaquin in California. She is also a geriatric trainer for the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC), which promotes education in geriatric nursing and end-of-life care.

Sometimes people, like your father, who are facing a life-limiting disease appear to be "giving up" when the family sees a decline. Realize that your father has gone through a lot up to this point. He broke his hip, required surgery, and now resides in a nursing home. He may just be so tired and, the prospect of having to go through the physical therapy required after such surgery may be too much for him.

Decline is normal for people as they progress through their terminal disease process. Falls occur more and more, and ultimately, the person can break an arm, leg, or hip. It just seems that with each fall, or hospitalization, the person comes back less than they were. In fact some people never recover after a fall. This decline can be very distressing for the family members.

By not wanting to eat"”actually refusing to eat"”and also refusing his medications, is a very strong form of non-verbal communication. He may feel he has no control over his life, and may not want to live this way. It really is not possible to say if his behavior is typical since everyone is unique. On the positive side, he is cared for around-the-clock in the nursing home and he is safe. Take comfort in the small things now; be with your father as much as you can, tell him how important he is to you, and give him a little time to "regroup." Concentrate on what he still has, as opposed to what he has lost.