While it is true that older people often need fewer calories, this doesn’t mean that it is okay for them to eat less and less or refuse eating. A loss of muscles and a decline in physical activity may limit the amount of calories they need, but they still require the same or higher level of certain nutrients compared to those at a younger age.
The sad part is that a loss of appetite is generally considered a normal part of aging. This is why in some cases, an elderly loved one may exhibit loss of appetite, but this does not mean that there is something wrong with him or her. Less food intake, however, can also indicate lower levels of nutrients, which can lead to energy decline and nutritional deficiencies.
Providers of senior home health care services in Oakland note that a number of factors can contribute to a loss of appetite in older people. These include:
- Loneliness or depression. Isolation or living alone can cause loneliness and depression in the elderly. This can make mealtimes a lot less desirable, as they have nobody to eat or share a meal with. This then causes a loss of appetite.
- Dental problems. Old or poorly fitting dentures and other dental issues can cause pain while chewing. This can also make the prospect of eating food a lot less appealing because of the discomfort it brings.
- Side effects of medications. Certain medications can cause a loss of appetite and nausea in older people. If you think that your loved one’s loss of appetite is due to his or her medications, it is best to talk a doctor or healthcare provider.
- Reduced sense of smell and taste. Changes to the senses are common as people age. This is why the food that your loved one once enjoyed may no longer be appealing to them. Making poor food choices is also likely with weakened sense of taste and smell.
- Certain diseases or illness. Diminished appetite may be normal in many cases, but you should know that it can also be due to certain illnesses. Alzheimer’s disease, certain types of cancer, and thyroid disorders can all cause a loss of appetite. It is best to talk to a doctor about this, especially with sudden weight loss.
What You Can Do
If your loved one is refusing to eat or not eating well, the first thing you should do is to consult a doctor. This is to rule out any underlying medical conditions. A healthcare provider will also make dietary recommendations and ways to improve an elderly loved one’s appetite. You can also consider having a home healthcare aide to assist him or her with whatever he or she needs.
It is also a good idea to:
- Make mealtimes a social event or have your loved one dine with you or others. This can avoid the loneliness that comes from eating all alone.
- Start with serving smaller portions of nutritious food. It is best to avoid giving your loved one large servings, as this can sometimes overwhelm him or her and keep him or her from eating altogether.
- Introduce new kinds of food. Try serving tasty and nutritious kinds of food or those that are pleasing to the eye. Check out this article from the National Coalition on Aging (NCOA) for senior nutrition and healthy eating tips.
Don’t just ignore a loss of appetite in your loved one. Make sure to contact a healthcare provider for advice and other recommendations.