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Spot the Signs of Loss of Appetite in Older Adults

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While a slight loss of appetite in older adults is considered a normal part of aging, it also can be a sign of a more serious health condition that can interfere with your loved one getting the nutrients they need in order to live longer and enjoy life more. Here’s how to recognize when lack of appetite needs prompt attention, as well as suggestions on how to improve both appetite and nutrition.

Why getting adequate nutrients is so important—and why it’s harder with age

Everyone needs proper nutrition, especially seniors. The proper nutrients supply energy. They help a person control their weight. Good nutrition is vital for healthy hair, strong teeth and a robust immune system. Eating the right foods can help keep an aging brain sharp. Foods such as sweet potatoes, kale, and strawberries help preventcataracts and glaucoma. Older adults who lose at least 10 percent of their body weight tend to experience increased mortality rates.

The problem is, as a person ages, other factors begin to affect the ability to get these valuable nutrients and can result in loss of appetite in older adults.

These include:

  • Dental issues like dry mouth, gum disease, difficult chewing, dentures
  • Problems swallowing, which can signal other health conditions
  • Suddenly sensitive to aroma or taste of a particular food
  • Loss of taste
  • Needing assistance with eating due to physical limitations
  • Dehydration
  • Medication side effects
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor digestion
  • Having to depend on others for meals; loss of control
  • Depression or loneliness

How to spot the signs of loss of appetite in older adults

  • Eating fewer meals
  • Picking at foods
  • Declining the opportunity to eat more than one meal in a day
  • Avoiding foods they previously loved
  • Not wanting to eat with others anymore

In addition, more serious health conditions can be behind loss of appetite in older adults:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • A thyroid disorder
  • Cancer, particularly lung, stomach, ovarian or pancreatic
  • Changes to the salivary glands
  • Hepatitis
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

How to Improve Appetite for Better Nutrition

A few changes can help you or a loved one feel hungrier or maintain sufficient nutrition:

Eat foods with more vitamins and minerals. Boost the healthy calories in those smaller servings by adding foods such as avocado; finely chopped meat, cheese or egg; olive oil; peanut or other nut butters; and soft cheeses such as ricotta.

Serve smaller portions of high nutrient foods. Use a smaller plate and serve smaller portions. Also, you might consider five small meals a day instead of three larger ones. To save time, simply cook a large batch of food and store it in smaller, individual containers for serving.

Use fewer utensils. A person having trouble using a spoon, fork or knife might just give up altogether. To make it easier, plan foods that are easily eaten without utensils. In other words, finger goods. (Another possibility is trying adaptive utensils.)

Some suggestions of finger foods include:

  • Chicken strips or nuggets
  • Fish sticks
  • Steamed or raw veggies like carrots, broccoli, bell pepper strips, or cucumber pieces
  • Meatballs

Keep simple snacks handy. Some people are grazers: they like to munch on something during the day rather than wait for mealtimes. As long as they have access to delicious and tasty snacks offering the right nutrients, it’s a good strategy for helping to overcome loss of appetite in seniors. For example, try cheese sticks, full-fat yogurt, whole milk or chocolate milk, peanut butter and crackers, diced fruit, or cottage cheese.

Consider milkshakes or smoothies. Sometime chewing is the problem with loss of appetite in seniors. If so, foods that are more liquid in nature might be the answer.

  • Soups enhanced with olive oil or veggies
  • Smoothies with healthy ingredients like bananas, fruit, yogurt, veggies
  • Hot cocoa
  • Full-fat milk or milkshakes

This suggestion is not for those with dysphagia (swallowing problems).

Helping an Older Adult Get Proper Nutrition Is Vital

At Peregrine, we understand that loss of appetite in older adults is a serious issue. And we are familiar with the challenges that some seniors face concerning diet and nutrition. That’s why in each of our communities, residents receive nutritional support and guidance from staff during meals in gracious settings with menus created for taste and wellness. We invite you to learn more.

Pioneering Care: The Peregrine Way™®Contact us today to learn more, and please download the free guide, The Complete Guide to Choosing Between Senior Living Options. We are here to help you!

Written by
Stephen Sarsfield Bowman

More Articles By
Stephen Sarsfield Bowman

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