Changes in appetite are a normal part of the aging process. They are not necessarily indicators of concerns. For many individuals, this stage in life reduces the elasticity of the stomach and alters taste buds. These things change both feelings of fullness and the desire to eat. As long as weight remains within healthy limits and the senior’s nutritional needs are met, changes are considered normal and not a cause for alarm.
While normal shifts in eating patterns are simply viewed as part of the aging process, there are times when appetite changes should be viewed as warning signs. Significant weight loss, sudden shifts in eating patterns or sallow skin, frail bones and poor dental health all might indicate that a senior’s nutritional needs are not being met. When these signs are present, it is time to see a doctor.
Factors that Influence Appetite
To help prevent nutritional deficits, it is valuable to consider the factors that influence a senior’s eating habits. They include:
- Depression and loneliness
- Lack of energy or the physical capability to cook
- Medication side effects
- Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia that often cause seniors to forget to eat
- A lower metabolic rate and less physical activity reducing the need for calories
- Periodontal disease or ill-fitting dentures
- Other medical concerns including thyroid disease, some forms of cancer, salivary gland dysfunction, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
Seeking Medical Advice
If you are concerned about changes in your loved one’s eating habits, a medical exam is in order. Before visiting the doctor’s office, try to create a list of food intake, weight shifts and any other concerns related to nutrition so that you are prepared to share them at the appointment. If the senior’s doctor does not advise blood work and other diagnostic testing, request it to get a thorough picture of what is happening inside the body. This information helps the doctor to put the most effective plan for change in place.
Meeting Nutritional Needs at Home
In addition to visiting a doctor, there are some other steps that might help your loved one best meet their nutritional needs.
Think Quality not Quantity
A senior may no longer have the stomach capacity for a dinner size plate of food. That does not have to mean their plate lacks nutritional value. Offer smaller meals and in-between snacks consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. A few slices of avocado offer a healthy fat alternative. A half-cup of cottage cheese increases calcium intake to help keep bones strong. Nuts, peanut butter, olive oil and cut fruit or fresh vegetables are other easy ideas to have on hand and serve to your loved one regularly.
Stay on Schedule
Our bodies thrive on consistency, and because of that, a schedule of when meals are served often stimulates the appetite. If your loved one has been off course for a long time, start small with one meal served at the same time every day. This helps to cue hunger signals and gets the body back on a regular routine. Ultimately, it often also improves nutritional intake.
Make Meal Times Social
No one likes to eat alone. Just the prospect often reduces appetite. Provide your loved one with opportunities to eat meals with other people. Ways to do this include inviting them over for family meals a few times a week, checking out group meals served at local senior centers or hiring a professional caregiver to prepare meals and provide companionship during dining times. Even a meal delivery service helps a little, so consider all of your options, and move to make mealtime a more social affair whenever possible.
Consider Medication Side Effects
Medications sometimes cause food to taste different. They can leave a metallic taste in the mouth, cause dry mouth or impact the appeal of foods by further changing the taste buds. If your loved one has recently started a new medication and their appetite is changing, speak with their doctor. Sometimes these side effects decrease over time, and at other times, the doctor may consider changing the medication. Flavoring food in new ways might also help to counteract medication side effects. Ideas include adding fruit essence to water, trying new protein sources or making food a little more flavorful with herbs and spices.
When all else fails, sometimes prescription appetite stimulants offer the key to improving appetite. Consult with your healthcare provider to discuss this option, or try some of the natural appetite stimulants first including:
- Exercise and Activity
- Bitter Greens
As we age, getting enough nutrients keeps us healthy, strong and independent, and this supports aging in place. If you are concerned about how much an aging loved one is eating, think quality not quantity, encourage social eating and develop routines. Also, don’t be afraid to seek medical advice. Salus Homecare San Diego is also here to provide support if your loved one is struggling with meal preparation or needs companionship at mealtimes. We offer quality in home care solutions with flexibility to meet your family’s needs. Give us a call if we can help.
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