If you are caring for an older loved one who seems to have lost their appetite for food, there are a number of reasons why this might be happening.
Here, we are taking a look at why ageing adults tend to lose their appetite, some of the medical conditions that might cause this, tips and tricks for stimulating appetite, how to make sure they are getting sufficient nutritional intake, and more.
At Home Instead, our aim is to help people age positively and in place by bringing expert care to their home. For nearly 20 years, we have been providing the highest standard of care, and creating industry-leading training programmes for our Care Professionals that are accredited by nursing and medical professionals. Today, we are the world’s largest global home care network, supporting over 100,000 older adults with personalised, tailored care at home. So whatever questions you have about arranging home care services, we can help.
Loss of appetite in older people is very common, and it’s nothing to worry about unless you have noticed sudden, unexplained weight loss in a loved one. Over time, many older people will start to eat slightly less throughout the day, and studies estimate around 20% of them will see a notable loss of appetite.
The reasons for this range from a general lack of interest in food, to health problems that cause eating to be uncomfortable, undesirable or even painful. Here are some of the most common reasons for appetite loss in older people:
When it comes to appetite loss, sometimes the culprit can be a prescribed medication. These might be medications such as:
If you believe your relative’s appetite has decreased since starting a new medication, encourage them to speak to their doctor to see if adjustments can be made to the type of medicine or dosage – this could have a positive impact on their appetite.
Certain medical conditions can cause appetite loss, and as older people tend to suffer with more ailments there is a chance a medical condition could be behind the change in food intake.
Some conditions known to affect appetite include things like chronic liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, hepatitis, cancer, HIV, hypothyroidism, diabetes and more. Other less serious conditions that might affect the appetite negatively in the short term include things like the common cold, infections, or food poisoning.
Dementia is a medical condition known to cause loss of appetite as it progresses, for a number of reasons. Someone with dementia could struggle to communicate that they are hungry or not hungry, or that they are not enjoying food. Memory loss could also be part of the issue, as someone with dementia may not realise when they last ate and could skip meals. Studies suggest those with dementia will likely experience decreased appetite as the condition worsens over time.
Important: If you notice a sudden loss of appetite in an older person you are caring for, this could be a symptom of a medical condition and may require treatment. Similarly, if you notice unexplained weight loss or gain, tiredness, or sudden changes in eating habits that last longer than a week, speak to a doctor.
Although appetite loss is common as we age, this doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to rarely eating and not enjoying food. There are a number of ways you can encourage more eating and improve the experience.
If you are struggling to encourage a loved one to eat more, sometimes focusing on improving the nutrient content of the small amount of food they are eating can help to ensure they are staying as healthy as possible.
Try avoiding high fibre foods as these are known to promote feelings of fullness, which means your loved one will end up eating less. Focus on calorie-dense foods and try to fortify food where possible to add more nutrients like vitamins, iron and calcium. Try cooking with calorie-dense butter or olive oil, and add whole milk to porridge instead of water.
You could also add calories by purchasing drinkable meals, which can be easier for those with issues swallowing or chewing. Smoothies and shakes are packed with lots of nutrients and calories, and don’t give the same sensation as eating so they may be more enjoyable.
Ultimately, the best food to provide for an older person with a lack of appetite is exactly what they want to eat. Research suggests that if someone has the opportunity to choose what they want to eat, they tend to eat more of it more often, so find out what they are in the mood for and try to satisfy that craving while it’s there.
Some other examples of high calorie, easy-to-make meals and snacks include things like cereal with added cream, soup with added grated cheese, baked potatoes with added butter and cheese, toast with peanut butter, and scones with cream and jam.
According to Age UK, older adults should aim to include:
If you are worried that your loved one is looking too thin but aren’t sure, these questions might help:
Yes, home care is an excellent way to ensure your loved one continues to eat normally at home. According to research, appetite loss in old age is more common in those living in care homes, so keeping your loved one in their own home where they can have more control over the foods they would like to eat can be a great way to ensure they stay healthy.
Home care from Home Instead can provide:
At Home Instead, we understand there’s no place like home, so our home care offering aims to help older adults retain independence and stay in familiar surroundings. We offer a number of bespoke services which can be tailored to your needs, such as the above, and our Care Professionals are highly trained to deliver the individualised service you need. Reach out to the team at Home Instead to learn more.
We’re an award-winning home care provider and part of a worldwide organisation devoted to providing the highest-quality relationship-led care for older people in their own homes. Arranging care for yourself or your loved one shouldn’t be stressful, so whatever questions you would like answered, feel free to reach out to the Home Instead team to discuss your needs.