Many patients I work with in the hospital tell me that they are not eating due to lack of appetite. Decreased appetite can lead to unintentional weight loss in older adults. Loss appetite can have many causes, some directly related to aging and others are not. As we age our sense of smell and taste change. If food doesn’t taste or smell good, our desire to eat may decline. Older adults often have early satiety, and feel full after eating only small amounts. Constipation can also make a person feel full even if they haven’t eaten recently. Additionally, medications can decrease appetite and alter taste. Individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s may just not remember they need to eat. Many older adults are also less active which can be a contributing factor.
For other individuals, eating can be problematic due to difficulty chewing and swallowing. Poor dentition, loss of teeth, or ill-fitting dentures can make eating challenging. Dry mouth, a common side effect of medications, can also inhibit taste sensation and make it hard to chew and swallow. Eating is traditionally a very pleasurable experience. If eating becomes work or food is no longer appealing the desire to eat or “appetite” can decline.
Combating poor appetite can be difficult but identifying the cause of the decreased desire to eat is the first step in formulating a strategy.
General Tips for Keeping up Your Appetite
- Keep a regular meal pattern. Eat small frequent meals if you become full quickly.
- Eat meals with friends or family to help make meal time more enjoyable. Listen to music you enjoy during meal prep and meal time.
- Cook with more herbs and spices to help pump up the flavor and scent of foods.
- Visit your dentist to regularly address oral problems.
- Talk to your doctor about how you can promote bowel regularity.
- For dry mouth, add sauces or gravy’s to moisten your foods. Ask your doctor about a saliva stimulant.
If you continue to lose weight, you may need to consider an oral supplement or calorie booster. Hormel Health Labs has a variety of products that can easily increase your total calorie intake. The Instant Breakfast Mix is a quick way to add calories and protein to your morning class of milk. It also makes a great evening snack. Super Shakes taste great, and the mix takes up less space than ready-to-drink supplements. Check out these and other great supplements online at HomeCareNutrition.com under malnutrition.
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Food and Nutrition for Older Adults: Promoting Health and Wellness. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112:1255-1277
Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition. Nutrition Care Manual®. http://www.nutritioncaremanual.org.
Mara Lee Beebe, MS, RD, LD, CNSC is registered dietitian who is passionate about nutrition and promoting health and wellness. She currently works as clinical dietitian at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC. Mara Lee specializes in caring for oncology and gastrointestinal surgery patients. Mara Lee works with patients to optimize their nutrition and overcome malnutrition before, during, and after cancer treatment or surgery.
Mara Lee graduated from Ashland University with a Bachelors of Science. She went on to receive her Masters in Nutrition from Bowling Green State University, where she also completed her dietetic internship. Mara Lee is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition.
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