Appetite loss is relatively common in elderly people. It comes and goes, has a number of potential causes, and is usually nothing to worry about. At the same time, though, it’s very important for seniors to meet their nutrition needs, and this, along with the complications associated with malnutrition, makes it essential to remedy the issue as soon as possible.
Causes for Appetite Loss in Seniors
Appetite loss in seniors can hint at a serious condition, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and a serious infection. It’s important to discuss this issue with a healthcare professional just to rule out more serious issues. They may run some basic tests, ask a few questions, and determine whether or not further action needs to be taken.
In the event that these serious illnesses are not the cause of appetite loss, it could be the result of one of the following:
Medication Side Effects
Many medications affect your appetite. This could be the result of nausea, dry mouth, a metallic taste in the mouth, fatigue, and problems with hormones.
If you’ve recently started a new course of treatment, it may need time to settle and the side effects could go away after a while. The same applies if you have recently increased your dose. In any case, you should discuss it with your doctor.
They will advise on the best course of action, which may include anti-sickness medications.
Depression is becoming increasingly common in seniors. Many seniors feel lonely and depressed after their partners pass away, while others battle with boredom, the loss of friends and family members, and financial problems.
Chewing and Swallowing Problems
If you have oral health problems, chewing and swallowing is a chore. You may avoid eating because it’s painful or difficult. Adaptive utensils can help and there are also medications that make your life easier.
This often ties in with depression, but it can be a problem of its own. Many elderly people struggle to adopt healthy eating habits after losing their loved ones. They go from a regular routine of eating with that loved one and enjoying some social time, to complete loneliness and disorder.
If you’re used to home-cooked meals and your mobility problems suddenly mean that you’re reliant on microwaved food and fast food, you may find yourself bored with the idea of eating. You don’t want to struggle through the process of cooking a meal, you can’t be bothered to eat fatty, sugary, and processed meals, and so you end up eating nothing.
Constipation can trap you in a cycle of discomfort. On the one hand, you need to keep eating, drinking, and consuming as many fiber-filled foods as you can. But at the same time, when you’re constipated, the last thing you want to do is eat or drink, and when you do, you have an appetite for low-fiber, sugary foods.
The idea of eating a huge salad or plate of beans when you’re severely constipated is nausea-inducing. You shouldn’t force yourself, either. Instead, try increasing your fluid intake and speak with your doctor about medications.
Once you have maintained regularity again, you can focus on increasing your fiber intake to prevent similar issues in the future.
How to Improve Appetite for Seniors
If you or your loved one are struggling to eat due to a reduced appetite, keep the following tips in mind.
Adopt a Regular Eating Schedule
Sitting down to eat at the same time every day creates a ritual that your body gets used to. If you have your breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time, you’ll find yourself getting hungry around these times.
Avoid Snacking and Junk Food
If you find that you don’t have much of an appetite but are not losing weight, you might be consuming your daily calories in junk food. Many people who live alone or spend a lot of time in the house make frequent trips to the kitchen. They snack on cookies, chips, soda, and candy, and when it’s time to sit down and eat a big meal, they’re not hungry.
We tend to discount all these little snack trips and only think about the big filling meals that we have. As a result, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that you’re not eating as much as you are.
To put things into perspective, the average serving of meatloaf with peas, mashed potato, and boiled cabbage, contains around 450 calories. A 4-ounce bag of potato chips with a bottle of sugary soda and a Snickers chocolate bar contains around 1,000 calories.
Add a large serving of fries and a small pizza to the mix, and you’re consuming way more than your recommended daily calorie intake without really feeling like you’re eating anything.
Stop the junk food and the snacks and save yourself for mealtimes, when you eat big, hearty, and healthy meals.
Eat High-Calorie but Healthy Foods
A diet rich in whole foods allows you to consume vast quantities of foods without consuming more calories than you need. However, if you don’t have much of an appetite, these foods won’t be very appealing and it’s tempting to reach for those fast-food fixes.
Instead, look for high-calorie foods that are actually healthy, allowing you to meet your daily calorie needs without sacrificing quality. For instance, avocados, nuts, olive oil, peanuts, dried fruit, oily fish, and nut butters are all high in calories and loaded with nutrients.
Eat More Liquid Foods
If chewing is a problem, increase the intake of liquid foods. Soup, smoothies, milkshakes, and even meal replacement shakes will provide you with a nutritious meal that doesn’t require any chewing. It’s important not to overdo it, however, as you may be skimping on essential fiber and getting more sugar and fat than your body needs.
Use an app like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal to track all the calories consumed throughout the day. As noted above, you may be consuming more calories than you realize, and this will give you a clearer picture. It will also tell you if you’re overdoing it with the fat, sugar, or salt while highlighting any potential nutrient deficiencies.
Make sure you include everything you eat and drink throughout the day. Nothing is too small or irrelevant.