As many as 15% of seniors are estimated to experience loss of appetite. This is unfortunate – not only because food is good and we would prefer everyone to enjoy it, but also because seniors with reduced appetites are at greater risk of becoming undernourished or malnourished. Malnutrition poses a greater risk of infection, hospitalization and even death, and is typically accompanied by decreased bone density and muscle mass.
What Are the Causes of Loss of Appetite in the Elderly?
Seniors may eat less or refuse to eat altogether for a number of reasons. Most importantly, several serious diseases may cause loss of appetite including (but not limited to):
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Salivary gland disorders
- Ovarian, lung, stomach, pancreatic and other types of cancers
Likewise, a number of common prescription medications can have side effects that include loss of appetite including (but once again not limited to):
It is crucial for a medical professional to determine whether a senior’s loss of appetite may be the result of disease or a side effect of medication. Once these are ruled out, it is highly possible that a senior’s loss of appetite stems from one or more of the following factors:
- Loss of taste
- Lack of physical activity
- Lack of a regular routine
- Difficulty preparing meals
- Increased sensitivity to smells
In addition to the aforementioned factors, seniors often experience reduced appetite when a physical condition makes chewing and/or swallowing difficult and/or uncomfortable. These conditions include:
Finally, loss of appetite may be the result of depression. According to the CDC, only 1% to 5% of seniors suffer from major depression, although the rate increases to 11.5% in seniors who are hospitalized and 13.5% in seniors who require home health care.
What Are the Solutions for Loss of Appetite in the Elderly?
Assuming that a senior’s loss of appetite is not a result of a serious illness, physical condition or side effect of one or more medications, there are several ways to help them recover their appetite.
- Schedule regular mealtimes. When a senior falls out of the habit of observing regular mealtimes, they may no longer receive the environmental cues their body needs to build up an appetite. Preparing regular meals for them can help to correct this maladjustment.
- Serve smaller portions of higher calorie foods. Seniors suffering from reduced appetite are often put off by the sight of large servings. Compensate for this by serving smaller amounts of calorie-dense yet still nutritious foods such as red meat, pork, salmon, potatoes, whole grain breads, peanut butter, olives, avocados and cheeses.
- Make nutritious snacks freely available. Seniors who hesitate to eat full meals often still love snacking. Grazing is still a perfectly healthy way for a senior to get their much-needed calories and nutrients.
- Serve foods that don’t require utensils. Seniors with arthritis or reduced hand-eye coordination may feel discouraged from eating if they’re frustrated by their inability to use a knife and fork. Fortunately, some of the most delicious foods are also finger foods.
- Serve soft foods. If difficulty chewing discourages a senior from eating, then soups, smoothies, milkshakes and meal replacement shakes can all help to make mealtimes more appealing.
- Make mealtimes social. Seniors who dine together or with their families are far more likely to find mealtimes pleasant. Positive emotions often spur people to join in a shared activity, which includes eating in the case of dining among friends and family.
- Serve meals on larger plates. A larger plate gives off the illusion of containing less food than it actually does. This subtle trick of psychology often encourages seniors to eat more than they otherwise might have.
- Avoid greasy foods and carbonated beverages. Foods and beverages which make people feel gassy also tend to make them feel fuller, faster.
As you begin implementing strategies to help a senior overcome their loss of appetite, make certain to keep track of what works best. When a senior expresses a fondness for a certain snack, soup or milkshake, they’ll readily enjoy it again soon!
Would you like to learn more about the reasons why seniors tend to lose their appetites, as well as how you can help them compensate for reduced hunger? Then we welcome you to contact Morgan Lane Village today! Residents of our senior living community in Tea, South Dakota enjoy excellent regular meals and snacks, and they appreciate inestimable health benefits because of them.