Have you ever visited your grandparents and found that food had spoiled in the refrigerator? What about canned goods that have long expired? Molded bread? Many seniors find eating to be an issue. They simply lose their appetite.
Why do seniors lose their appetite?
Loss of appetite is a challenge that must be confronted to help seniors receive essential nourishment to sustain themselves.
Nourishment is the first line of defense against infection and disease. Nourishment can also prevent injury.
A senior’s quality of life is directly tied to being well nourished and remaining as active as possible.
When faced with this phenomenon, one must understand the contributing factors that can result in a loss of appetite.
SOME MEDICATIONS CAN CAUSE A LOSS OF APPETITE
A health professional should be notified to help rule out any underlying conditions that cause loss of appetite such as:
- Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
- Thyroid disorders
- Mouth and throat infections or gum disease
- Salivary gland problems
Medication side effects like dry mouth or a metallic taste can change how food or water tastes, which can also cause a loss of appetite.
Once these have been ruled-out or addressed, here are 9 other factors that contribute to a loss of appetite that must be resolved.
9 REASONS FOR LOSS OF APPETITE IN SENIORS
1. Lack of Exercise
Regular exercise and activity boosts appetite. Much of a senior’s time may be spent sitting, which means the body does not demand as much food. Therefore, get your senior up and moving. An appetite will certainly get “worked up” after some exercise.
Being dehydrated can cause loss of appetite. Many older adults don’t get enough fluids and become dehydrated more easily because of age-related changes or medication consumption.
3. Lack of Routine
Retirement often breaks a 30 or 40 year routine of eating. Therefore, developing a daily routine where meals are eaten around the same time every day can help their body feel ready to eat at those times.
4. Loss of Taste
With age, many people’s taste buds become less able to detect flavors. Normal food might be bland and unappetizing to them.
5. Difficulty Chewing, Swallowing, or Eating Independently
If eating has become too difficult or unpleasant, many older adults simply don’t want to eat. These problems can be caused by:
- Normal aging (wear and tear on the body)
- Dental problems
- Medical treatments like surgery
- Stroke, dementia, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, or other health conditions
6. Sensitivity to smells
Sometimes people develop a sensitivity to the smell of certain foods that can make them feel nauseated or unable to eat. Uncover these issues quickly. A change in menu is often all that is needed.
7. Depression or Loneliness
Depression affects 1 in 10 seniors and often causes loss of appetite. 30 years ago, the dinner table was full of people, and now they are often at the table alone. This can be depressing. The solutions here are numerous but be sure to get your senior to a table where people are gathered together. Remember, eating is as much a social event as it is a survival activity.
8. Loss of Control
When older adults are dependent on others for everything, they’ve lost control over how they want to live their lives. Sometimes, not being able to choose what to eat makes someone not want to eat at all. Look for ways to incorporate the senior’s choice and meal preferences when possible.
9. Mealtimes are Unpleasant
If mealtimes have become a time for disagreements or arguments about their eating, seniors could associate food with unpleasantness and avoid it. Make mealtime a joyous occasion regardless of the amount of food consumed.
6 WAYS TO GET SENIORS WITH NO APPETITE TO EAT
1. Have a regular meal and snack schedule
A routine is key to conquering a loss of appetite. Work with your seniors to determine when and how often they should eat. Get agreement and then remain consistent.
2. Serve smaller portions of high nutrient foods
Seniors do not need two Big Macs. They are not as active as they once were. Therefore, smaller portions are necessary.
These portions can be spread out over 4 or 5 meals a days to ensure proper calorie intake.
- Boost the healthy calories in those smaller servings by adding:
- Finely chopped meat, cheese, egg
- Olive oil
- Peanut or other nut butters
- Soft cheeses like ricotta or mascarpone
You may still cook large amounts of food but refrigerate or freeze it to be used in small amounts later.
3. Stop using utensils
The frustration of not being able to use a spoon, fork, or knife could make some older adults not want to eat at all. Finger foods are completely appropriate and fun to eat.
Try some or all of these:
- Chicken strips or nuggets
- Fish sticks
- Steamed or raw veggies like carrots, broccoli, bell pepper strips, or cucumber pieces
4. Have plenty of easy-to-eat snacks on hand
Some seniors prefer to graze throughout the day rather than eat full meals. This is just fine. Keep plenty of healthy, delicious, and easy-to-eat snacks available.
These snacks are appropriate for those with loss of appetite:
- Cheese sticks or string cheese
- Full-fat yogurt
- Diced fruit, fresh or packaged
- Peanut butter and crackers
- Cheese and crackers
- Full-fat cottage cheese
- Whole chocolate milk
5. Make milkshakes or smoothies
If chewing is difficult or tiring, even with small pieces of food, smooth it out! Who doesn’t like a tasty smoothie? How about soup?
- Nutritious soups – enhanced with cream, olive oil, or pureed meats and veggies
- Healthy smoothies – add bananas, fruit, full-fat yogurt, or veggies like carrots and fresh spinach
- Hot cocoa
- Full-fat milk
- Milkshakes – sometimes a good quality ice cream is better than eating nothing.
This is not a solution for those with dysphagia (swallowing problems).
6. Keep track of what works
You will find what works. When you do, keep using it. Make sure others, who love and care for your senior, understand. Possibly create a recipe book or log book for your senior. This way, if you are unavailable others can step in with ease and care for your loved one.
RALNA GETS TO THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line is simple, getting seniors who have no appetite to eat is a big challenge. Therefore, be patient, creative, keep experimenting, and don’t get discouraged.
Also, be kind and loving as you try to help your senior.
Most of all, don’t take their refusal to eat personally. Remember, they’re not rejecting you. They don’t want food.
The Residential Assisted Living National Association provides many resources to help your RAL business provide quality care for seniors.
RALNA supports them with access to legal expertise, continued education, national marketing, group purchasing power and a continual positive voice for the industry.
There are additional tips RALNA offers to help owners staff their assisted living home. RAL home operators do not have to go through these difficult processes alone.
Visit www.RALNA.org for professional tips and to get connected to a positive network in the assisted living industry in the face of challenges.