For those of us who love to chow down on a favorite meal, it can be difficult to understand why some seniors experience loss of appetite. But lack of appetite is actually common among older adults, who often experience changes in eating habits and thirst as part of the normal aging process.
Loss of appetite can be caused by different, interacting factors. A waning interest in food can stem from emotional causes like depression or loneliness, but also can be caused by changing taste buds, which weaken as we age, making food taste bland. If the special senior in your life cooks for themselves, sometimes shopping for and preparing food takes too much time and energy. Medications and illness can also produce a loss of appetite—if there is a rapid change, it may indicate a serious condition, so consult your doctor.
The main concern when faced with loss of appetite is whether your loved ones are getting the nutrients they need. There are a few practical steps you can take to help them:
Schedules are key. Many seniors benefit from schedules in general, and eating is no different. If a senior isn’t feeling hungry, sitting down regularly for mealtimes can help get them on the right path.
Make eating fun. Meals are always more enjoyable when we share them with others, so encourage mealtime as a social opportunity. Likewise, if a senior’s appetite has reached a standstill, try to kickstart it again with food that encourages good memories, like favorite dishes or special treats.
Medication makes a difference. Many seniors with loss of appetite complain of dry mouth, or of food tasting different. Brushing teeth and using oral rinses can help with dry mouth. Some medications can make food, especially meat, taste metallic. Try providing other types of protein, like beans or soy. If water tastes strange to a senior and they aren’t hydrating enough, try juices, or flavoring the water with sliced fruits.
Think density, not size. If a senior isn’t eating enough, you might be tempted to pile their plate high. But if they’re experiencing low appetite, this will just be intimidating. Instead, choose foods that are rich and dense nutritionally. Fruits and veggies, dairy, and lean protein are all nutrient-dense. If you’re worried about calorie intake, you can add a little in the form of peanut butter or olive oil.
At Mercy Retirement & Care Center, we want all our residents to experience the joy of good food. We are proud and happy to provide social dining tables, balanced nutrition, and delicious meals. For more information, call (510) 228-4032.