A loss of appetite in our loved ones can be very concerning to us. However, a loss in appetite is actually a natural part of aging. Aging can bring about several physiological and lifestyle changes that make our seniors less inclined to eat. A better understanding of the reasons for this can help us learn how to increase appetite in elderly.
A proper nutritious diet is crucial for people of all ages. This is especially important for our seniors who have frail bodies, and when coupled with a loss of appetite, this can negatively impact their health and immunity.
What Causes a Loss of Appetite in Seniors?
The aging process brings with it a host of physical and mental changes that can lead to a decreased appetite in the elderly. These changes can range from something as small as an alteration in smell perception to total changes in the metabolic activity of a person. The factors causing loss of appetite in seniors can be divided into three groups- physiological factors, psychosocial factors, and pharmacological factors.
With aging, there are several physiological changes that occur that impair our seniors’ appetite. Changes in the digestive system, hormonal fluctuations, impaired sensory perception, decreased energy, and pre-existing pathological conditions, all contribute to a loss of appetite.
Older adults have decreased saliva production and poor dentition which can make it difficult for them to chew and swallow. Hormonal changes such as lower fasting levels of ghrelin also contribute to appetite impairment in elders. Chronic conditions prevalent in the older population such as renal failure, chronic liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer are all known to worsen appetite. Chronic pains are associated with poor appetite, and since more than half of the community-dwelling elder population suffers from chronic pain, it is a major factor causing appetite impairment in our elders.
Our sense of taste, smell and vision are all necessary for the enjoyment of food, and impairment of these senses can occur with aging, leading to a loss of appetite.
Our appetite is strongly influenced by the environment and our mood. Therefore, any psychological and social changes that occur with aging can reduce appetite. Depression is known to significantly impact appetite. Living alone can also contribute to loss of appetite. According to statistics from AGE UK, more than a third of elders over the age of 65 live alone, and more than half of those over 70 live alone.
Older adults often need to take medications for their health conditions. Many drugs commonly used by geriatrics have side effects that alter one’s sense of taste and smell, cause nausea and reducing appetite.
How to Treat a Loss of Appetite in Seniors
There are certain things you can do to help your beloved elders increase their appetite. These are some tips that can help stimulate appetite in the elderly:
Rule out Serious Health Problems
First and foremost, it is important to rule out any health issues that may be causing the loss of appetite. If you notice a sudden loss of appetite, a sudden weight loss or gain, or symptoms such as nausea, it is best to consult a physician first. Rule out any health conditions, medications, or dental problems that might contribute to an impaired appetite. Once you’ve done this, a few simple steps can help you to improve their diet.
1. Have a Regular Meal Schedule
Having a regular meal and snack schedule can help prepare their body and mind to eat at specific times of the day. Relying on your senior’s ability to feel hunger before giving them food is not a good idea, as our perception of hunger tends to decline with age. An elder’s physiological drive for hunger also decreases as they age, and it is often better to keep a fixed routine to ensure your family elder is getting their required nutrients.
2. Serve Smaller Portions Packed With Nutrients
Serving huge portions of food to increase your elder’s appetite is not a good idea. The nutrient density and the quality of food is much more important than the quantity served. Some seniors can feel overwhelmed when they see a large amount of food in front of them. Instead, serve smaller portions of nutrient-dense foods such as avocados, peanuts, soft cheeses, eggs and finely chopped lean meats to increase their daily caloric intake. It is also a good idea to follow a routine where your senior eats 5 smaller meals throughout the day, instead of 3 larger ones.
3. Embrace Finger Foods
Elders may often suffer from shaky hands and lack of coordination, which can make using spoons, forks and knives quite frustrating and embarrassing. Include food items that can be eaten by hand such as sandwiches, nuggets, and fruits.
4. Include More Liquids
Our elders often have trouble chewing due to poor dentitions. Including more liquids and softer foods can improve their caloric intake. Consider foods such as smoothies, milkshakes, and soups. These foods are not only nutritious but also easy to consume and digest.
5. Encourage Healthy Snacking
Some elders prefer to graze throughout the day rather than consume larger meals. This is absolutely fine as long as the snacks consumed are healthy. Try including high protein and high-calorie snacks in their diets such as yogurt, meat, peanut butter, milk, and cheese.
6. Encourage Physical Activity
Lack of physical activity in seniors is a major contributing factor when it comes to a loss of appetite. Encourage your seniors to engage in light to moderate physical activity every day, such as short walks in nature. When exercising, a good, comfortable pair of running shoes can reduce the burden on their joints and prevent injuries during physical activity. Exercise will not only rev up their metabolisms but also uplift their mood due to the release of endorphins.
7. Eat Together
No one likes to eat alone. In fact, depression and loneliness significantly contribute to loss of appetite in people of all ages. This is true for your elders too. Eating together as a family can not only improve your elder’s appetite but also uplift their mood and mental condition. Your senior will be inclined to eat more when they see mealtimes as a social bonding activity rather than a chore. Make eating a more pleasurable activity for your senior by playing music, using colorful linen, and lighting up the atmosphere.
While the loss of appetite can be a natural part of aging, it is important to address the issue as it can lead to further complications and health problems. We hope this article helped you understand how to increase appetite in elderly. A healthy, nutritious, and well-balanced diet can improve the overall health of your family’s elders.
The key to improving a senior’s appetite is to make sure that consuming meals is enjoyable for them. If your senior suffers from a loss of appetite for extended periods of time despite your best efforts, it is time to visit a doctor. A doctor can help determine the underlying condition causing a loss of appetite and help treat it.