As we age, we go through many changes to our bodies and minds. A common change for older adults is a loss of appetite.
A loss of appetite can occur for many reasons. Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to help encourage appetite. Eating enough food is important to a happy, healthy life at every age.
If someone you love is struggling with their appetite or managing day-to-day activities, there are ways to help ease their stress and provide care.
Why Seniors Eat Less
A loss of appetite in anyone, but particularly in people over the age of 65, can occur for a number of reasons. Many times, a loss of appetite can be attributed to age-related factors. However, a loss of appetite can also be a sign of something more serious.
There are many age-related reasons connected to a loss of appetite.
Most people over the age of 65 have a lower metabolic rate and generally do less physical activity. This means they usually need fewer calories, so their appetite lessens over time.
As we age, our sense of smell and taste can change which can make food less tasty. The development of dental problems or gastrointestinal changes can also make eating less enjoyable. For example, some people can become lactose intolerant in their later years.
Dehydration can also cause a lack of appetite and sometimes we can forget to drink enough water during the day (no matter the age). However, people over the age of 65 are more likely to become dehydrated—either due to forgetfulness, other age-related changes, or certain medications.
Seniors who lack a regular routine may be less likely to eat enough food each day. Sticking to a regular routine helps encourage appetite.
An inability to prepare meals can cause seniors who are living alone to eat less because cooking is too difficult.
When older adults become dependent on others, they may feel as though they’ve lost control of their lives. Refusing meals may be a way to regain some control back. Including them in the decision and action of cooking can help encourage seniors to eat.
Health Conditions & Concerns
A loss of appetite may be a sign of an underlying condition. Some common health issues that can decrease hunger include:
- Depression or loneliness, which is very common for seniors
- Dementia & some other neurodegenerative disorders
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping, affecting their energy
- Side effects from certain medications
While these conditions are less common, they can be more serious and can also cause a loss of appetite in seniors:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Head or neck cancers
- Mouth or throat infections
- Periodontal disease
- Salivary gland dysfunction
- Thyroid disorders
If the loss of appetite is associated with other symptoms, it’s best to consult a doctor.
Why It Matters
A loss of appetite can lead to nutrient deficiencies in the body, which can cause more serious problems if not treated. Between 15% to 30% of seniors have “anorexia of aging” and have an increased risk of weight loss and nutritional shortages.
Older adults who don’t eat enough increase their risk of:
- Frailty, falls, & pressure sores
- Longer hospital stays
- Osteomalacia & osteoporosis
- Hip fractures
- Muscle weakness
A person’s ability to heal wounds, ward off infection, and live a fulfilling life can also be significantly affected by nutritional deficiencies. This is why it’s critical for older adults to eat enough every day.
Help Encourage Appetite
Fortunately, there are many ways to encourage a healthy appetite in older adults.
Getting regular exercise increases the number of calories a person burns which increases the amount of fuel they need. Light exercise is an easy, effective way to boost hunger.
Planning and preparing meals together is another easy way to help boost appetite. This can help older adults feel involved in their lives and decisions, and takes away the stress and complexity of trying to do it all alone.
It can also be helpful to break meals down into smaller portions. Instead of 3 larger meals, try preparing 6 to 8 smaller meals to have throughout the day. You may also wish to take note of when your older loved one is most hungry.
Try eating at the same time every day, even if the person isn’t hungry. Even having a few small bites can condition the body to expect food and encourage the person to eat.
Sometimes, a low-fiber diet can be helpful in encouraging appetite. You can also encourage snacking by placing nutritious snacks around the house.
Choose foods wisely—it’s helpful to involve seniors in this process so they get to eat something they enjoy. You can also switch up meals by incorporating protein smoothies or high-calorie drinks.
Perhaps the best way to encourage appetite is to make mealtimes appealing. Set a schedule, try to make mealtimes socially engaging, and prepare meals that are delicious to the people eating them (remember, those senses can change over time).
Some additional techniques include:
- Add extra herbs, spices, or sauces to boost flavor
- Use garnishes & colorful foods to make meals more appetizing
- Change the menu up regularly
- Watch TV or listen to music while eating
- Use grocery delivery services for those who are less mobile
- Set an alarm to remember meal times
- Ensure dentures fit correctly to avoid pain/discomfort
- Try adaptive utensils to help with joint pain & dexterity
- Reduce the need for utensils with handheld foods
Some great ingredients to incorporate into meals include:
- Avocado & eggs
- Finely chopped meat & cheese
- Olive oil
- Peanut or other nut butters
- Soft cheeses like ricotta or mascarpone
- Full-fat yogurt
- Nutritious soups
- Full-fat cottage cheese
- Whole milk or chocolate milk
Try to keep track of what strategies work best for your loved one. It’s best to discuss these strategies with a doctor to find the right fit for you or your older loved one.
Get More Help
If you have a loved one who needs more assistance with their day-to-day life, contact our staff to learn more about our communities and services. We’re happy to serve you and your family.