10 Reasons Why Seniors Lose Their Appetite

loss of appetite

Many older adults struggle during mealtimes or simply refuse to eat because they no longer have an appetite. The problem is that in order to stay healthy and active, seniors need to be consuming a sufficient number of nutritious calories every day.

The first step is to figure out why they may not be eating, or if they have a health condition that is affecting their appetite. It may be wise to check with their doctor to rule out serious health conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, thyroid disorders, or mouth/throat problems. Also check on medication side effects like dry mouth or a metallic taste, which can change how food or water tastes.

Besides possible health conditions, a lack of appetite could also be due to other reasons such as a lack of exercise or dehydration. Regular activity boosts appetite, so seniors may need to work at building up an appetite before they eat. Age-related changes or medications can lead to dehydration, especially if the older person isn’t taking enough fluids.

Other possible contributing causes include the following:

  • A lack of routine where the body has no idea when regular meals or snacks should be consumed.
  • Inability to prepare meals in the case of seniors who still live independently and find kitchen work too difficult.
  • Loss of taste due to aging taste buds which are now less able to detect flavors, causing food to seem bland and unappetizing.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or eating independently, often due to normal wear and tear, dental problems, medications, recent surgery, stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis.
  • Sensitivity to smells that can make them feel nauseated around food.
  • Depression or loneliness, which can cause loss of appetite and which often intensifies around mealtime due to the pain of eating alone.
  • Loss of control by being dependent on others for everything, including food choices.
  • Association of unpleasantness, such as when seniors experience frequent arguments about what or how they eat so they learn to dread mealtimes.

Fortunately, there are ways to help encourage healthy eating among seniors with little to no appetite. Start by having a regular meal and snack schedule so their bodies are ready to eat at specific times. Understand that their bodies won’t always detect hunger, since that instinct declines with age. Serve smaller portions of high nutrient foods. Most elderly can’t consume a large amount of food in one sitting anymore. Instead, they may do better with five small meals a day rather than three larger ones.

If difficulty using silverware is causing frustration, try using adaptive utensils or serve foods that can be eaten without utensils, such as fish strips, chicken nuggets, or raw veggies. If seniors prefer to graze all day, provide them with healthy and delicious snacks such as cheese and crackers, full-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, cheese sticks, peanut butter and crackers, or diced fruit. If chewing is a challenge, try serving softer foods, such as milkshakes, nutritious soups, or healthy smoothies.

In short, realize that while it’s normal for appetites and taste palates to change as a person ages, it’s not healthy or sustainable to consume fewer calories than needed to carry on the functions of daily living. Be on the lookout for how much your older adult is eating, and then make any necessary changes.