Prevent Elderly from Pulling Out Feeding Tubes and IVs

That day I was just in the hospital observation room as I brought my mom there for a follow-up checkup.  There was a sweet looking elderly lady lying on the stretcher bed receiving an IV drip.

Then not long later, I heard a nurse let out an audible gasp as she was walking near the old lady. The old lady had pulled out the IV from her hand.

Yes, these elderly folks are really sneaky and they act really fast and quietly. Never be deceived by an innocent sweet looking face. If we place an IV on them, we need to keep an eye on them. If not, they may pull the tube out before we know it. This is regardless of whether they have Alzheimers/dementia or not.

The same goes for feeding tubes and catherer. In other words, any tubes that we need to put either intravenously or just a feeding tube during treatment to help them. Often they are not happy with hospital stays and sometimes are quite stubborn in receiving treatment, especially if they have not been visiting hospitals all along.

My mom have end stage Alzheimer’s now. Few years ago when her Alzheimer’s was still in initial stages, she was hospitalized due to infection and inflammation. She was given IV drip and a nebulizer mask (for medication to her lungs). She repeatedly tried to pull out the IV tube and nebulizer, and when she was stopped, she kept complaining and getting very agitated.

More than 2 years ago, due to her inability to swallow, she was hospitalized and the doctors decided she require a NG (nasogastric) feeding tube on long term basis. She was then too weak to meddle with the IV. But she did try repeatedly to have her feeding tube pulled out because understandably it was uncomfortable- imagine having something permanently poking our nose.

For the past 2 years, she was able to keep the feeding tube on because of hand mittens. I do not need to tie her hands to the bed railings….just with the hand mittens it would prevent her fingers from reaching out and curling on the tube, tugging it and then pulling it out.

But she has gotten used to the tube and no longer need to put  the hand mittens for her. Her hands now have a free rein. However at certain times, somehow she would scratch at certain areas of her body like arms or neck areas causing redness and sometimes even bleeding (due to her already thin skin from old age). If that happens, I would monitor and apply medication for her during the day but would put the active hand (that always keep scratching) on the hand mitten before I sleep and remove it when I wake up.

Hence, hand mittens are life saving item to have for elderly persons who would otherwise be pulling out their IVs, feeding tubes and catherers. If it is in hospital, they would usually just put on a hand restraint to temporarily restrain their hands to the bed to prevent IV and tube pulling.

I did a video regarding the hand mitten that I credit for helping my mom keep her feeding tube on and thus sustaining her life:

However for long term care at home, it is no good to have their hands tied to the bedrails. A specialized hand mitten can be used instead. Please note that this is not the usual hand mittens that we use for the oven or to keep our hands warm during the winter. These specialized hand mittens are designed to not bend when the fingers bend because in order to pull out any tube they usually need to grab on the tube with bent fingers before tugging and pulling it out.

Do note of course if you are getting a hand mittens, you would need minimum 2 pairs so that they can be rotated between wash. We need to wash the hand mittens every few days to prevent smell and bacteria build up from sweat.

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