Loss of appetite in the elderly is considered to be a normal part of the aging process. That said, it’s still important to understand why your loved one’s appetite may be diminishing. This way you’ll be able to understand what the cause may be so you can help try to stimulate their appetites, which can play a huge role in maintaining overall health. You’ll also know if you have other causes for concern; a decreased appetite, while typical in seniors, can also be a sign of serious medical problems, especially when a noticeable weight loss is involved.
Loss of Appetite Causes
There are a variety of factors that can play a role in loss of appetite in the elderly, including:
- Problems with dentures: Ill-fitting dentures and continuous wear can cause discomfort in the gums. If your loved one’s mouth hurts, they may find the idea of eating solid foods unappealing due to the pain it causes.
- Medication side effects: Some medications can cause nausea and loss of appetite in seniors. If you are concerned that medications may be the source of your loved one’s diminished appetite, make sure to talk to a doctor or health professional.
- Depression or loneliness: Being socially isolated causes depression and loneliness in the elderly; the prospect of eating a meal alone is enough to reduce one’s appetite.
- Changes to the senses: As we age, it’s common for our sense of taste and smell to change. Foods our loved ones once enjoyed may no longer seem appealing, or the changes to their taste buds may cause them to make poor food choices.
- Illness or disease: Although a decreased appetite in the elderly is somewhat normal, it’s important to know that it can be a result of certain serious illnesses. Thyroid disorders, certain cancers, periodontal disease, and Alzheimer’s can all cause loss of appetite. If your loved one experiences a very sudden weight loss or weight gain, consult with a physician as soon as possible.
How to Stimulate Appetite in the Elderly
Encouraging healthy eating habits in your loved one is key to stimulating appetite, and this can be done in a variety of ways:
- Set a schedule. Routine is important to the elderly, and they are often creatures of habit. Create a meal plan in which breakfast, lunch, dinner and a few snacks are given at the same time of the day, every day.
- Make it a social event. Whenever possible, have your loved one eat meals with others, whether it is with yourself or at a community center, church or senior center to help them avoid the loneliness and depression that can stem from eating alone.
- Decrease portions while increasing calories and nutrients. A large amount of food set before seniors can overwhelm them and can deter them from eating altogether. Start with smaller portion sizes and offer second helpings. Increase the amount of calories they intake by adding things like olive oil, cream, whole yogurt or peanut butter to meals.
- Be creative and colorful. Even though seniors can be set in their ways, it can’t hurt to try to introduce new foods, especially given the fact that their taste buds may have changed. Also, keep foods on the plate colorful and appealing to the eye.
If you’re concerned about the eating habits of your elderly loved one, don’t be afraid to first reach out to a health professional for more advice. Appetite loss should not be ignored due to the fact that it could be the sign of a serious health condition, and a healthy diet is vital to your loved one’s overall quality of life.