Aging Appetites - Helping with Appetite Loss in Seniors

If you are a caregiver helping to provide meals to a loved one, you may have asked yourself what causes loss of appetite in seniors? Loss of appetite certainly can be frustrating for the caregiver; however, changes in appetite can be an important red flag for diseases such as cancer, COPD, depression, hormone changes, and gastrointestinal disturbances along with many others. It is important to pay attention to changes in behavior, especially if they’ve lost 5-10% of their body weight within a year. If you notice these changes, please consult with a medical professional. When beginning new medications, it is important to recognize that a change in eating patterns may be a side effect. With all that being said, loss of appetite doesn’t always mean there is something wrong. 

Here are some practical strategies for improving your aging loved ones eating habits:

  • Serve smaller more frequent meals. Eating a little bit 5-7 times a day can be less intimidating than a huge plate of food twice a day. This will help keep energy levels even.
  • Experiment with new flavors as tastes change.
  • Add color to meals to make them nutritionally and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Use a variety of textures
  • Be creative with presentation. Using nice or fun plates and arranging food creatively can make even a simple meal feel special.
  • Change the environment by eating in a different room, putting out a tablecloth and flowers, putting on music or going on a picnic. Variety can be good for the spirit!
  • Use a theme for the week or travel to different countries via the stomach by creating traditional dishes from around the world.
  • Have the family dinner on a regular basis. Be among loved ones and make dinner into a social time instead of lonely time. This can easily stimulate an appetite.
  • Go for quality, not quantity. Choose protein-rich foods such as eggs, fish, beans or milk. Consider adding vitamins and protein into a refreshing shake. This can be particularly helpful if your loved ones has trouble chewing foods or is experiencing mouth pain.
  • Stews or soups can be a great way to add a variety of nutrients while keeping meals simple. A homemade soup can reduce sodium intake dramatically. They are also easy to heat up again and try later if your loved one is having a particularly difficult time eating.
  • Drinking liquids is very important for hydration, but can also be helpful when dealing with an aging adult whose appetite is low. Offer options throughout the day such as tea, milk or 100% juice.
  • If you are going on a trip or outing, take nutritious snacks with you such as peanut butter, bananas, cut-up veggies, nuts, cheese or yogurt. This will allow you to encourage eating on their own time table. 

Published on March 1, 2017.