Loss of Appetite in the Elderly
Changes and loss of appetite in the elderly are normal. Generally, these aren’t an indication of an underlying health concern like dementia.
However, it’s still crucial that aging adults get the necessary nutrients to maintain their physical, cognitive, and emotional health.
When your parents start turning away meals or aren’t meeting their nutritional needs, you might feel concerned.
Here’s how you can help your elderly parents who are experiencing appetite loss.
What Causes a Loss of Appetite in the Elderly?
Appetites naturally change throughout our life, but other factors can bring about appetite loss in seniors:
- Not enough energy to prepare meals and fatigue from poor sleep
- Not caring for food because of taste buds, depression, or loneliness
- Health issues, dementia
- Side effects from medications
- Decreased metabolism and less time spent physically active
- Altering senses of smell and taste
- Dental or digestive changes/issues
Although appetite loss is a regular part of aging, it’s essential to reduce the harmful effects of poor nutrition.
In addition, it’s also important to eliminate any hidden health problems or symptoms. If your parent isn’t eating enough, the first step is discussing their health with a doctor.
Things to Watch For
So, if a loss of appetite in the elderly is healthy, when should you be concerned?
You should become involved when you notice that your parents’ eating habits are less than nutritious, or that they consistently aren’t eating enough.
Older adults’ nutritional intake must match their shifting dietary requirements. Deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can lead to critical health issues.
Appetite loss in the elderly can also happen in combination with other severe illnesses, such as:
- Alzheimer’s, dementia, or Parkinson’s
- Head and neck cancers
- Periodontal disease or infections of the mouth and throat
- Dysfunctional salivary gland
- Thyroid disorders
If you notice any unexplained changes in your parent’s mood or diet, schedule a doctor’s appointment to discuss possible symptoms of dementia.
Promoting a Healthy Appetite in Seniors
If you have worries about your parent’s eating habits or nutritional health, here are tips for eating better:
Side Effects from Medicine
Dry mouth is a common side effect of medication. Chewing sugar-free gum, regular teeth brushing, or using an oral rinse before meals can help.
These can enhance taste perception, which will improve nutrient consumption.
Additionally, if your parent complains that their food tastes “off,” try other sources of protein such as dairy or legumes.
If water doesn’t taste the same, you could try herbs, fruits, and vegetables like lemons and cucumbers.
Use Appetite Stimulants
Some older adults have found prescription appetite stimulants extremely beneficial. Of course, this must be discussed with your parent’s doctor.
If you decide to try this type of medication, it’s important to let your parent and their caregiver know about any side effects and ensure that it’s a suitable choice.
Engage Them with Social Meals
The idea of eating alone can lead people of any age to experience appetite loss. For elders (particularly those who have dementia), social contact can be challenging to access.
Consider researching meal options at senior centers, religious buildings, and community centers.
Also, inviting them to meals with you, friends, and family (even meal delivery services) might improve your parent’s appetite.
Focus on Nutrition, Not Serving Size
As you work with your parent and their caregiver to improve their nutritional health, remember that the nutrient density of the food is more important than the amount.
Large portions can intimidate those experiencing decreased appetites. Another idea is adding healthy fats and calories to the meal, such as avocados, olive oil, or some peanut butter.
Eat at Regular Periods
Routine is key for optimal body functioning, including hunger and thirst signs. When our routine changes, our appetite can, as well.
Besides eating around the same time throughout the day, try including a small drink or snack during regular mealtime. It could trigger the body’s hunger signal and boost their appetite.
Eating to Improve Sleep
Quality sleep for seniors is something that not enough people talk about. Besides changes in appetite, seniors (especially those with dementia) also undergo shifts in sleeping habits.
These changes might be caused by sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea. Or, pain and discomfort could leave them unable to get a good night’s rest.
It’s not unusual if you’re unsure about your parent’s appetite loss and sleep. But, both of these things are imperative for your loved one’s well-being and health.
If your parent doesn’t eat during the day, nighttime hunger might make sleeping even more challenging.
Unhealthy habits like this raise the chances of waking up throughout the night. If dementia is apart of the equation, it can confuse.
Chronic fatigue can cause loss of appetite in the elderly, as well. Regularly missing REM sleep or good quality rest leads to depression and decreased physical activity.
Both of these are detrimental to your parent’s appetite.
What to Eat for Better Sleep
Besides eating during the day, pay attention to what your parent eats in the hours before bed.
Encourage them to try these ideas for dinner and late-night snacks:
Reasonable quantities of lean protein: Overeating protein before bed can be tricky for nighttime digestion. But a little bit in a snack can help support sleep because of plentiful amounts of tryptophan.
- Warm beverages: A warm, decaffeinated drink like milk or herbal tea can help improve melatonin production. Steer clear of sugar before bed and try to finish the last drink an hour and a half before bed to reduce trips to the bathroom.
- Healthy carbs: Combined with tryptophan-containing protein, a small number of complex carbohydrates can help turn that tryptophan into serotonin. Stick to whole wheat toast or sweet potatoes, rather than cookies and white bread.
- Fruit: Some fruits are found to have high levels of melatonin. Cherries, kiwis, bananas, and pineapples are all great sources and also have lots of fiber.
When eating later at night, remind your parents to eat smaller portions. Also, help them avoid eating greasy and spicy foods because they can upset digestion.
Alcohol also affects REM sleep and should be avoided before bed.
If your parent is struggling to maintain a healthy diet due to loss of appetite, a qualified caregiver may be able to help.
An in-home care worker can help with meal planning, cooking, and ensuring your loved one is meeting their nutritional needs.
Reach out to us over the phone (888) 541-1136. For general inquiries, or to ask about health care coverage, message us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the Blog for more resources about senior health and safety, including delicious recipes for year-round nutrition.