December 1, 2014
Loss of appetite and changes in eating can be a natural part of aging, but it is not necessarily natural or healthy for seniors to lose their appetites. The aging process brings with it a host of physiological, psychological, and other causes that can lead to a change in appetite, but any change in eating habits should be taken seriously as a possible sign of a serious health problem.
One of the most common causes of loss of appetite is needing fewer calories due to lower metabolic rates and lessened physical activity. Additionally common, but more worrisome is age-related dental or gastrointestinal changes (like lactose intolerance) and changes to the sense of smell and taste that can affect the enjoyment of food. The last two causes can be a natural part of the aging process or indications of more serious health concerns such as thyroid disorders, infections or cancers, periodontal disease or even Parkinsons’ and Alzheimer’s diseases. For this reason, any decrease in a loved one’s appetite is a red flag to see a physician.
If the appetite loss is not caused by a specific disease then there are a few things that can be done to help them get the nutrition they need. Pay attention to the density of the nutrition in the food they do eat. Poor nutrition choices exasperate the concerns of loss of appetite, so one tip is to add healthy calories like olive oil, avocado or nut butters. Try to get the hunger signals going again by setting regular meal times, and if a meal has been eliminated, add it back slowly by making it a snack time first. The prospect of eating alone can reduce anyone’s appetite so consider social meal options with friends and family or at local senior centers and churches. Lastly, sometimes a physician can help by making sure the loss of appetite is not a side effect of medication or by prescribing appetite stimulants.
It is not uncommon for seniors to experience loss of appetite, but it is a concern when it happens for any reason. Being proactive and taking measures to increase your loved one’s appetite or at least ensure that they receive adequate nutrition is the best line of defense and will increase their health and your peace of mind.
Source: Florida Council on Aging