Understanding Loss of Appetite in Older Adults: Common Causes, Factors To Consider, and Ways To Improve
Breakfast goes untouched. Barely a dent was made at lunch. Getting dinner down is a struggle.
If this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with loss of appetite in your elderly loved one.
Why do older adults lose their appetite? How do you know if nutrition needs are met? And most importantly, what can you do about it?
We uncover common causes of elderly loss of appetite and help you determine the best way to ensure you, or your senior is getting much-needed nutrition.
Table of Contents
Is Loss of Appetite in Elderly Individuals a Cause for Concern?
In some cases, loss of appetite in elderly adults is simply a part of growing old and requiring less energy to get through the day. Your resting metabolic rate decreases as you age, which can lead to a loss of appetite.
However, if you notice signs of restrictive eating, like trouble swallowing, or rapid and sudden weight loss, there may be cause for concern. One study suggests that weight loss in seniors is associated with an increase in mortality.
Determine if Health Conditions or Medication Side Effects Might Be Factors
If you notice a sudden loss in appetite, a rapid decrease in weight, or increased fatigue, it’s important to consult a doctor. Ruling out medication side effects or serious illness will be the first step in determining the cause of elderly loss of appetite.
Medications may cause side effects such as a metallic taste in the mouth or a dry mouth, both of which can change how food and water taste.
Illnesses that may cause changes to appetite and taste include:
- Thyroid disorders
- Mouth and throat infections
- Gum disease
- Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
- Salivary gland problems
Fluctuating hormone levels may also cause a loss of appetite in elderly adults. A recent study from the University of Plymouth suggests that the production of the hormone that lets a person know when they’re full may become overstimulated in the elderly. Tests may be needed to rule this out.
Increased fatigue may be a sign of malnutrition in the elderly and could cause a weakened immune system, making seniors more susceptible to illnesses or injury due to frailty.
What Causes Loss of Appetite in the Elderly?
Several physiological changes may affect our appetite as we age. These can include changes to:
- The digestive system
- Sense of smell, taste, and vision
- Pain levels
- Overall health
Changes in appetite must be closely monitored in the elderly.
At Senior Services of America, our communities offer structured, nutritious meals to ensure that the health and nutrition needs of our residents are being met. Our staff takes pride in creating a delicious and exciting menu that takes into account personal food preferences, allergies, and specific medical needs.
If you or your senior are unable to meet nutritional needs at home, it may be time to consider assisted or senior living facilities. Our caregivers are dedicated to the health, well-being, and quality of life of every one of our residents.
8 Common Reasons for Loss of Appetite in Elderly Adults
Often, seniors don’t get enough liquids. One study showed that up to 40% of seniors are chronically under-hydrated and adults over the age of 65 have the highest hospital admission rates for dehydration.
This could be a result of certain medications, forgetfulness, or simply not feeling thirsty due to sedentary lifestyles.
In addition to a loss of appetite, dehydration may be responsible for a variety of serious health conditions, including kidney stones and UTIs as well as a higher risk of falling.
#2: Loneliness or Depression
Eating alone can feel very lonely. Some seniors may come to dislike mealtime because they don’t want to eat by themselves or prepare food for just one person. This may cause an elderly person to skip meals.
Additionally, depression affects between 10-20% of seniors and can cause a lack of appetite. Depression is not a normal condition and should be treated like any other illness. Signs of depression include:
- Sadness, hopelessness, or despair
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Loss of interest in hobbies or socializing
- Poor sleep habits
- Slowed speech or movement
- Neglecting personal care
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Memory problems
- Fixation on death
- Feelings of worthlessness
If you suspect you or your loved one may be experiencing depression, consult a physician right away.
Loss of Control
Sometimes older adults may feel as though they’ve lost control over their lives when they become dependent on others.
Not being able to choose what or when to eat can cause issues with appetite, especially if mealtimes become a time for disagreements over food.
If you’re caring for an elderly person, try including them in meal decision-making and preparation. This may help give them a sense of control and desire to eat what’s being served.
#3: Difficulty Chewing or Swallowing
Eating can sometimes become unpleasant or difficult, making many elderly adults resistant to mealtimes. Difficulty chewing or swallowing may be caused by certain issues, such as:
- Dental problems
- Surgery or medical treatments
- Dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and other health conditions
- Fatigue or pain
If swallowing issues are not linked to a more serious illness, some steps can be taken to reduce the effort required to chew and swallow food, such as:
- Blending foods into smoothies
- Taking smaller bites and eating slowly
- Adding a thickening agent to liquids
#4: Lack of Exercise
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to loss of appetite in elderly adults. Seniors may need to work up an appetite to feel hungry.
Increasing daily physical activity can boost appetite and have many other positive effects on your health.
Seniors should be getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week. This can be divided into short intervals of 10 minutes of exercise two to three times a day.
Physical activities should include:
- Strength training
- Balance exercises
- Aerobic exercises
- Flexibility training
#5: Food Aversion
Changes in the types of foods offered or in meal schedules can also cause a loss of appetite in elderly people.
If a senior is recently placed under the care of an at-home caregiver or an assisted living facility, new foods, preparation methods, and schedules can affect their desire to eat.
Just like most of us, if an elderly person is being served foods they’re not accustomed to or don’t particularly like, they’re not likely to eat them.
#6: Loss of Taste
Physiological changes may cause a loss of taste in the elderly which may be worsened by events such as chronic disease or taking multiple medications.
Sour and bitter flavors may become more pronounced, while sweet, salty, and umami tastes tend to decline with age. This may prompt seniors to eat less or choose to increase their sweet and salty foods, which may be lacking in nutrition.
If you or your senior is experiencing a loss of taste, experimenting with different flavors, while finding healthy alternatives to sugar and salt, may help increase the desire to eat.
#7: Sensitivity to Smells
Your sense of smell can begin to diminish as you get older, especially after the age of 70. This could be caused by a loss of mucous production and nerve ending in the nose.
Mucous not only helps odors stay in the nose long enough to smell them but also helps clear these odors from the nerve endings.
Certain things, such as diseases, smoking, and exposure to harmful particles in the air, may cause the loss of smell to speed up.
A loss of smell can decrease your enjoyment and interest in eating.
#8: Lack of Routine
A lack of routine can result in confusion around eating times and may cause the elderly to skip meals. Creating a routine that includes 5-6 small meals throughout the day can help seniors hit their target nutrition.
Try establishing a meal plan that includes a variety of foods that you or your loved one will look forward to eating. Routine and mealtime enjoyment may help stimulate appetite.
What Can Help Stimulate an Older Person’s Appetite?
Maintaining adequate nutrition is essential for the health and well-being of the elderly. A few small changes could go a long way toward increasing the appetites of the elderly. For example:
- Rule out potential medical issues that could be causing a loss of appetite
- Make mealtimes enjoyable by including your senior in decisions and cooking
- Create and maintain an eating schedule
- Offer a selection of healthy snacks that are always available to your senior
- Introduce adaptive utensils if your loved one is experiencing dexterity issues
- Blend foods or offer nutritious meal replacement drinks between meals
- Keep your senior hydrated throughout the day
- Engage in regular physical activity to boost appetite
- Try eating in group settings and making mealtimes social
- Address any issues with dry mouth, chewing, or swallowing
- Serve smaller, nutrition-rich portions
- Supplement with daily vitamins and minerals
- Ask your doctor or a nutritionist to help create a nutrition plan or recommend an appetite stimulant
When you take the time to determine the cause of appetite loss, work together with your doctor or nutritionist, and encourage small changes, eating regularly should become less of an issue.
Senior Services of America Prioritizes the Health and Happiness of Our Residents
The caregivers at our communities are dedicated to the ongoing health and well-being of our senior residents.
Whether it’s caused by an underlying medical condition, or a part of the natural aging process, our nutrition specialists are qualified to meet the nutritional needs of our residents who are experiencing a loss of appetite.
We provide restaurant-style dining at all our facilities, making mealtime a social and enjoyable time for our seniors. When visitors are expected, our residents can make use of our private dining rooms to entertain their guests while enjoying a nutritious meal prepared by their loved ones or our culinary staff.
Our purpose is to provide the most dignified care for all our seniors in every one of our facilities, and that includes catering to nutritional and dietary needs.
Our team is here to help you or your loved one adapt to a new home. Ready to learn more? Find your nearest community today.
The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.