As a patient advocate, I work with seniors and caregivers everyday. A common complaint I get is loss of appetite amongst seniors. I remind my clients often that a loss of appetite is a normal part of aging and doesn’t always mean something is wrong. However, minimizing the detrimental effects of poor nutrient intake is always important, irrespective of the cause.
The pandemic has created a vast array of challenges for all of us, and seniors are bearing the brunt. I've had many families express concern for their elderly loved ones who have lost their appetite recently. Stress is one of the most probable causes, but so is loneliness. See if you can schedule virtual dinner dates with your loved ones.
I work with Henry, a senior who lives by himself in Ontario. His family lives in Montreal. Henry has a Personal Support Worker (PSW) who comes in twice a week to help with chores around the house. He has all his meals made for him but his PSW told me that he wasn't eating like before. I spoke to Henry and his family, and we decided to try virtual family dinners. Henry's family called him on his tablet every evening at dinner time. He actually started looking forward to seeing his grandchildren every evening, and it turned into a new routine for him. Henry has now got his appetite back and also has a fun activity added to his daily routine.
Although it’s normal for our appetites to change with age, several different factors can also cause a loss of appetite in the elderly. Some of the most common reasons for this change are lack of energy to cook, lack of sleep, lack of interest in food due to changes in taste buds, depression or loneliness. Loss of appetite due to health conditions, dementia, and also medication side effects.
What can you do to improve appetite in seniors?
- set regular meal times and a healthy eating schedule
- arrange for frequent family dinners or social gatherings involving meals
- consider prescription appetite stimulants. Be sure to consult with a doctor to inform the patient and caregiver of the pros and cons of the stimulant and to also make sure it is appropriate
- pay attention to the quality rather than quantity of food consumed
When should you be concerned?
- if you notice dry mouth, ask your doctor if it is a possible side effect of a medication
- unexpected sudden weight gain or loss
- general malaise
- difficulty in concentration
- weakness preventing them from performing household chores and other activities of daily living
- when they wake up in the middle of the night due to hunger
The aging process brings with it many changes that can lead to decreased appetite in seniors including a lower metabolic rate and lessened physical activity which means seniors need fewer calories. Dentures and other dental problems can also contribute to decreased intake of food, while physiological changes to the sense of smell and taste can affect the taste and enjoyment of food.
Make sure to limit meal sizes late at night and avoid overly greasy or spicy foods. Such foods may irritate the stomach and cause difficulty falling asleep. As a result, they might avoid future evening meals. Also, older adults should avoid alcohol before bed since it affects normal sleeping patterns.
Whatever the reason for loss of appetite, seniors must get the right nutrition for their changing dietary needs. Vitamin or nutrient deficiencies can cause significant health problems. Any unexplained changes to your loved ones’ appetite should be discussed with a physician so you can rule out or confirm symptoms of serious medical conditions.
I can imagine how challenging this can be for some. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.