Loss of appetite and changes in appetite are a natural part of aging, but it’s still important to make sure seniors get enough nutrients. Here I will give some advice on what to do if you can’t get an elder to eat.
Poor appetite doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem, but there are some warning signs to watch out for, and some easy things you can do to help your loved ones get the right nutrition.
Why has my parent’s appetite changed?
Although it’s normal for appetite to change with age, there are a number of different factors that can also cause elderly appetite changes:
- Lack of interest in food due to changing taste buds, depression or loneliness
- Lack of energy to cook
- Loss of appetite due to health conditions
- Medication side effects
Sometimes it just seems impossible to get your mom or dad to eat.
By putting small snacks or fruit on a table next to them while they watch TV or read gives them a chance to find delectable food without sitting at a formal meal. Consider nutritious snacks, I suggest cutting up squares of cheese, crackers, fruit like grapes, blueberries, apples cut to mouth size pieces, breakfast bars, small sandwiches etc. If your loved one likes chocolate, cookies or special sweets indulge them. Small servings won’t hurt them and they will be thankful. One family I know makes up a basket for their mother and she loves looking through it and picking out her own breakfast bar, cheeses etc. They enjoy going to the store and finding healthy foods to fill her basket. For healthy nutrition keep meals small, maybe an egg and toast for breakfast, soup and milk for lunch and meat and potatoes for dinner.
What’s normal and what should I be concerned about?
The aging process brings with it a host of normal physiological, perceptual and other changes that can lead to decreased appetite in the elderly, including:
- A lower metabolic rate and lessened physical activity means seniors need fewer calories.
- Dental problems or gastrointestinal changes (like lactose intolerance) that go along with age can effect the appetite.
- Changes to the sense of smell, taste and even hearing can affect the enjoyment of food.
However, if your loved ones are making poor food choices because of their changing tastes, or if they aren’t getting enough to eat, then that’s cause for concern. It’s critical for seniors to get the right nutrition for their changing dietary needs, because vitamin or nutrient deficiencies can cause significant health problems.
Changes to taste or appetite also occur in conjunction with some serious illnesses, including:
- Head and neck cancers
- Salivary gland dysfunction
- Thyroid disorders
- Mouth and throat infections or periodontal disease
- Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
Any unexplained changes to your loved ones’ dietary health, including unexpected weight loss, weight gain, or general malaise, should be checked out with a physician.
How can I stimulate appetite in my senior parent?
If you’re concerned about a lack of appetite in your elderly loved ones, there are a few practical things you can do to help them get enough nutrition:
1. Increase nutrient density, not portion size.
Do not increase the volume of food, rather, increase the nutrient density of the foods they serve. Don’t intimidate them with a huge helping, in other words—but you can often add healthy extra calories in the form of olive oil, a little peanut butter or avocado.
2. Set a regular eating schedule.
Our bodies tend to thrive off regularity, as do our hunger and thirst signals, so when we stray from our usual patterns, so does our appetite. Start slowly, adding a small beverage and/or snack during a normal meal time. This can help get the body’s hunger signals get going again.
3. Encourage social meals.
For people of any age, just the prospect of eating alone can reduce appetite. For seniors, accessibility and availability of social contact can be even more of a problem. Check out the meal options at senior centers, temples or churches, and community centers, as well as meal “dates” with friends, family or caregivers. Even meal delivery services can help.
4. Be aware of medication side effects.
If the problem is dry mouth chewing sugarless gum, brushing often or using an oral rinse prior to meals can improve taste sensation, and ultimately nutrient intake.” If meat is tasting “off”—and a common complaint is that some medications make foods taste metallic—then try other sources of protein like beans or dairy. If water doesn’t taste right, try adding herbs, or sliced fruits or veggies like lemon or cucumber.
5. Consider using an appetite stimulant.
Some seniors have had success with prescription appetite stimulants. First, though, consult a health care provider to make sure it’s appropriate.
Reference : Loss of Appetite in Elderly: Causes and How to Cope bySarah Shwartz