For so many seniors today, particularly those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, appetite loss has become a part of their life. It may sound like a relatively small issue in the senior community, but the epidemic of appetite loss among the elderly has led to a startling number of malnourished seniors.
While many people think of malnourishment as an issue that specifically relates to a lack of resources or of access to food, today it is most common among seniors, even those who live seemingly normal lives in assisted living.
Many friends and family members notice weight loss issues in their senior loved ones as they age. In most situations, the problem is not a serious, life-threatening condition, but instead a decreased appetite. Understanding this issue and the signs of a developing problem can help any senior get the assistance they need to overcome their issue and maintain a safe, healthy and nutritious life.
What Causes a Loss of Appetite in Seniors?
There are several causes that have been linked to a loss of appetite in seniors. Some of the most common issues include:
Side effects of Medications - Many of the most common medications that seniors need to take come with a great deal of side effects. When seniors experience side effects like dizziness, nausea or even dry mouth, it can lead to a partial or complete loss of appetite.
Depression - Depression and loneliness are very serious problems that impact many seniors. When elderly adults are faced with depression, it can have various physical side effects, including loss of appetite and weight loss. Many times, treating the depression can eventually help seniors regain their appetite.
Denture Issues - For seniors who have dentures, issues with ill-fitting dentures can cause a loss of appetite. When dentures do not fit as they should it can make it difficult or even painful to eat, which can cause a decrease in appetite. When seniors continuously wear ill-fitting dentures, it can cause severe gum pain causing seniors to be put off by the idea of eating solid foods and ultimately affect their appetite.
Changes in Senses - As seniors age, they experience changes in their body and the way it works. Often, seniors experience a change in their taste buds and a change in their sense of smell, meaning some foods they used to enjoy may no longer seem appealing.
Dislike for Food - A change in food types and meal offerings or meal schedules can cause an appetite loss. Sometimes when seniors move to an assisted living facility or a nursing home, the change in diet and the way their food is prepared can spark a sudden loss in appetite, especially in seniors who had particularly strict diet to begin with.
If this is the case, many senior living facilities are willing to adapt cooking and preparation methods to adhere to various dietary restrictions to ensure all seniors are able to enjoy meals that fit within their dietary needs and preferences.
Dementia - Seniors who have dementia, Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease are very likely to suffer from a loss of appetite. If this is the case, it is important to talk to their primary care provider about approaches to help dementia patients overcome appetite loss.
Illness - While there are many things that can ultimately lead to a loss of appetite in an elderly individual, sometimes an undiagnosed illness is really to blame. Certain cancers, thyroid issues, mouth infections, issues with salivary glands and even periodontal diseases can cause a sudden loss in appetite and rapid weight loss. It is important to first rule out illness as a cause of appetite loss.
The most important thing to remember, is that getting to the root of the problem is paramount when it comes to helping seniors overcome appetite loss. Before the problem can be resolved, seniors need to know what is causing the loss of appetite to begin with.
Helping Seniors Overcome a Loss of Appetite
When a senior completely loses their appetite, it is an understandable cause for concern. There are some ways loved ones and caregivers can help encourage seniors to eat more. For example, trial and error to find foods that appeal to a senior with a diminished appetite is a great start. Setting an eating schedule with more opportunities to eat smaller meals and snacks can also help encourage seniors to eat more.
Other times, replacing or supplementing meals with calorie and nutrient dense foods is a successful way to make sure that seniors are still getting the amount of calories and nutrients they need to have energy and stay active, even if they only want to take a few bites of food at a time. Easy additions to meals that will boost calories include coconut or olive oil, almond butter, eggs with yolks, and yogurt. These small additions can really boost a senior's calorie and nutrient intake, and help them still eat healthy, even when they aren't physically consuming much food.
If those strategies don't help, try reaching out to their caregivers or their senior living community, including the staff members and medical professionals who work with the senior. These professionals are likely well-versed in handling appetite loss in seniors.
There are treatments, diets and even supplements that can help seniors get the nutrients they need, even if their appetite remains an issue. It is important to not ignore an issue like appetite loss, because if not treated a senior can become seriously malnourished and ill from inadequate eating. Professional help can ensure that the senior is getting the vitamins, nutrients and calories that they need in order to stay healthy.